Teaching Tips: Using Words

I did part of my Instructor in Training hours under the a wonderful woman named Carrie who started HorsePower Therapeutic Riding. One of the things I learned from her are a few simple techniques that empower riders to use their words and/or communication skills to do things for themselves. I wanted to share with you some of the specific things I remember learning from her, that can be incorporated into any riding activity.

Note: As a riding instructor your primary focus is teaching riding skills. But everyone comes from different backgrounds and can incorporate their strengths. For example, Carrie came from years of experience in working with special needs children, so it was natural for her to include social skills and learning. In your own instruction, only include what you are comfortable with and capable of, and keep your primary goal as riding skills.

  • require riders to use descriptions
    • example:
      • you: ok, pick a card!
      • rider: (points)
      • you: Hm, I don’t understand what you mean, which card do you want?
      • rider: (points harder)
      • you: Uh oh, I don’t understand pointing! Use your words to describe to me which card you want!
      • rider: That one!
      • you: I don’t understand “that one”. Use words like “the card on the left” or “card number 4”.
      • rider: “The card on the left”
      • you: What about it? Use your words to ask me nicely.
      • rider: “Can I have the card on the left please?”
      • you: Of course you may! Thank you for asking so politely!
  • require riders to use critical thinking and ask for help
    • example:
      • rider: (whoas too far away from barrel)
      • you: Good using your reins to whoa your horse! Can you reach the cards on the barrel?
      • rider: No.
      • you: Hm. What could you do about it?
      • rider: (points)
      • you: I don’t understand pointing. Use your words please.
      • rider: Go in a circle.
      • you: Good idea! Let’s go in a circle and whoa closer to the barrel this time!
    • example:
      • rider: (whoas too far away from barrel, is reaching very hard for cards but can’t reach)
      • you: Hm, do you think you can reach the cards?
      • rider: No.
      • you: Well, what do you think you can do to get them?
      • rider: (shrugs)
      • you: Do you see someone else who can reach the card for you?
      • rider: (points to sidewalker)
      • you: Yes! You can ask someone to help you!
      • rider: Would you help me?
      • you: Good idea! But you should look her in the eyes and use her name. If you don’t know her name you can ask her.
      • rider: (looks at the sidewalker) What’s your name?
      • sidewalker: Mandy.
      • rider: Many, would you hand me the card?
      • Mandy: (hands her the card)
      • you: Good work! I like how you used your words to ask Mandy for help!
  • require riders to use social skills
    • requiring riders to ask for helper’s names if they don’t know them while looking them in the eyes
    • requiring riders to always use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’
    • if riders show interest in each other, take time to facilitate chatting between them, such as taking turns asking each other questions about themselves and their horses, modeling and requiring the right social dynamics
    • before and after competitive games go over winning, whether it is important, how we will react if we lose, and congratulating the other rider even if we’re sad we lost
    • even requiring riders to call helpers ‘miss’ and ‘mr’ (such as ‘miss Mandy’ and ‘mr Justin’) out of respect
    • when rider interrupt explain to them why that is inappropriate, require them to wait (even if briefly), and immediately reward them by listening to what they have to say (example: “Trevor please don’t interrupt, I am speaking right now, right now you need to listen to me, then I will listed to you when I’m done … (finish speaking) … Ok Trevor, thank you for waiting so patiently, now what did you want to tell me?”)
  • facilitate correct behavior by speaking to helpers through the rider (instead of directly telling the helpers what to do while ignoring the rider)
    • poor example: “Trevor, it’s time to trot! Mandy, don’t trot until he says “trot”.”
    • good example: “Trevor, it’s time to trot! You get to ask your horse to trot at C using your voice. If Mandy doesn’t hear you say “trot” really loudly, she’s not going to help you get your horse to trot.”
  • facilitate correct behavior by preparing volunteers ahead of time
    • because volunteers don’t come knowing how you want them to help, and are often tempted to make things easier on the kid
    • Example: “For this game you will whoa at the barrel and get a card. You can ask someone to help you, but they aren’t going to give it to you unless you ask nicely using your words.”

How do you empower riders to use their words and social skills during riding activities?

Coming soon: Carrie’s Treasure Trove of Activities!


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!

2 thoughts on “Teaching Tips: Using Words

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