The First Lesson

In my certification process we learned about doing a rider assessment, and teaching a new skill in a lesson, but we never learned about what happens in between – the exciting FIRST lesson! This is such a joy – a joy for you to share your love of horses with a new student for the first time – and a joy for them to ride for the first time or move freely without aid for the first time. It also can be full of nerves and anxiety – for you, who knows what the new rider will be like, and for the rider, horses and new places can be big and scary! What more, there is so much to teach, where do you start? Where do you stop? What do you DO in a first lesson?

I have had a few of these recently and wanted to share what I did. I would also love for you to share your own experiences and methods in the comments section below, because there is by no mean one right way to do this! I have found that the first lesson tends to be more of an assessment and introduction lesson. My goal is to introduce the rider to the barn and their horse in a meaningful way, to go over important information and safety procedures, discuss goals, and introduce the rider to balance and woah/walk on. If they catch on quickly, I might add steering. Obviously this will look different for every rider depending on their age and abilities.

LESSON PLAN: The First Lesson

  1. Introductions
    1. meet instructor and volunteers
    2. meet barn, discuss where to go, how to fit helmet, give tour if time
    3. meet horse – give special time to pet horse, take time to feel comfortable, discuss horse’s color/personality/etc.
  2. Mount
  3. Walk to center, halt, check tack, fix stirrups
  4. Teach Posture
    1. shoulder/hip/heel in a line
    2. heels down
    3. correct pelvis
    4. sit tall and straight
    5. aligned from the back 
    6. why: correct balance, stay with horse’s movement, keep from falling off, use body to talk to horse consistently
    7. demonstrate: try standing with body aligned (you can!), try standing with legs out in front (pull feet forward, it’s hard!), try standing with your feet in back (pull feet back, you can, but you poke your horse!)
  5. Walk a few laps to practice correct posture and balance, and get used to the horse’s movement
    1. while walking discuss goals: riding? horse care? groundwork? etc.
    2. discuss emergency procedure (spooking, safety seat, emergency dismount)
  6. Exercises
    1. one arm out
    2. the other arm out
    3. both arms out
    4. arm circles backward – to open up back
    5. hands on hips
    6. shoulder twists – same motion as when horse turns, you should be looking through the turn because he feels your body turns and knows it means he should turn
    7. feet out of stirrups
    8. relax leg – check posture from behind
    9. ankle circles
    10. pick stirrups back up
  7. Whoa/Walk On
    1. teach: using aids according to ability
    2. practice: at each letter around arena until at least kind of gets it
  8. Down centerline, woah, check tack and posture
  9. Steering – if doing well, you may have time to progress to steering!
    1. (I know PATH Intl. wants you to work on 1 skill per lesson, but some able-bodied riders catch on quickly and already attempt to steer anyway so you might as well have them attempt correctly)
    2. Practice: reverse directions (half circle)
    3. Practice: circle at each letter (full circles) for 1 wall
    4. Practice: weave cones
  10. Sitting trot – sometimes I throw this in for fun because kids like it, and many rider’s personal goals include improving core strength which walk/trot/walk transitions provide
    1. Teach: hold grab strap, sit on your pockets, move your hips with the motion, relax
    2. Practice: 1/2 wall, progress to full wall, start with thigh hold, progress to ankle hold or spot
    3. Incorporate: weave cones on 1 wall and trot on the other wall
  11. Steer to middle and whoa
  12. Teach important Horse and Saddle Parts – incorporate stretches
    1. you need to know them because I’ll say them during riding lessons
    2. ears – reach for them
    3. mane – reach far up it
    4. tail – reach back for it, on each side
    5. hooves
    6. bridle
    7. bit
    8. reins
    9. saddle
    10. pommel – right below your palm
    11. stirrups
    12. girth
  13. Dismount
  14. Pet horse, thank volunteers, say goodbye

This is a long list, you might not get through it all! It obviously depends on the rider.

Now I’d love to hear from you about what you do in the first lesson. Please leave a comment below! Thanks!


Note: This is not professional advice, this is a blog. I am not liable for what you do with or how you use this information. The activities explained in this blog may not be fit for every rider, riding instructor, or riding center depending on their current condition and resources. Use your best personal judgement!

4 thoughts on “The First Lesson

  1. That is a great list and really close to what I do with clients I work with. The thing I run in to is how to keep a little more light and fun so it isn’t all work and no play for them. Sometimes I feel like I’m showering way too much info on them and its hard for them to take it all in. My top priority for the first lesson is posture since most of our clients are in a halter and lead line for their first lesson. That helps me make it a little more simple though its still challenging for most clients. I also assess how well they can follow directions or pay attention to their surroundings… “Let’s see if we can find any birds while we are riding” or “what color is that car” etc. For a lot of our autistic clients it can be an accomplishment that they are interacting with us instead of just their parent.

  2. This is a great lesson plan. Normally on my first day my students never get on. I spend a little more time going over the horse, different parts and body language and things like that. I don’t want them to just be able to ride, I want them to understand the animal they’re working with as best as possible. I still agree with working on all this on my second lesson though 🙂

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