The Release: Lesson Plan for Group with Cognitive Disabilities

I am excited to share that the instructors at the Advanced Workshop I attended at Heartland Therapeutic Riding have agreed to let me post their lesson plans! This one is from Sandy Webster of Gaits of Change, our phenomenal workshop instructor, who made this lesson plan and then taught it to riders as an example of an Advanced level lesson.

The Release: Lesson Plan for Group with Cognitive Disabilities
By Sandy Webster
Given at Advanced Preparatory Workshop July 8, 2014
Note: I added some explanation where needed

Riders (notes that help make lesson planning decisions)

Rider 1

  • Diagnosis: ADD, anxiety
  • Goals: ride independently, jump, improve focus
  • Riding ability: posting trot, 2 point

Rider 2

  • Diagnosis: Autism, verbal, ambulatory
  • Goals: increase social skills, feel included, engage with peers
  • Riding ability: independent at walk and trot

Rider 3

  • Diagnosis: Aspergers, Verbal
  • Goals: overcome feeling of being different, increase confidence, jump
  • Riding ability: trot off lead

Lesson Plan


  • The riders will perform a release in 2 point at a walk 4x in each direction over ground poles with assistance as needed.

Teacher Preparation/Equipment Needed (Rider, Horse, Tack, Leader, SW1, SW2)

  • Rider 1, Bay Horse, English, Peacock stirrups, Rainbow reins, Leader for warm up, Spotter to assist with focus, no SW2
  • Rider 2, Chestnut Horse, English, Peacock stirrups, Rainbow reins, Leader for warm up, SW1, no SW2
  • Rider 3, Grey Horse, English, Peacock stirrups, Rainbow reins, Leader for warm up then spotter, SW1, no SW2
  • (Normally include their names above)

Arena Set Up:


  • 2 ground poles on one side of the arena
  • 2 ground poles in middle of arena, in V shape so riders pass over when going across diagonal, cones at pole ends as markers
  • 2 ground poles on other side of arena, with an upright pole with a cone on top on either side (4 total), using green cone on top to mark where rider will begin release and red cone on top to mark where rider will finish release, placing on top of poles to encourage riders to look up
  • Tie in each horse’s mane a red ribbon by the withers, a green ribbon halfway up the neck, and a yellow ribbon near the ears

Lesson Content/Procedure

  1. Safety Check
  2. Mount (order and type)
    1. Rider 1 – croup from block
    2. Rider 2 – croup from block
    3. Rider 3 – croup from block
  3. Safety check
  4. Introduction
  5. Warmup
    1. Rider 1 – after mounts, walk hands up horse’s neck to yellow ribbon and back, count and multiply by 4
    2. Rider 1 + 2 – after Rider 2 mounts and joins Rider 1, have both walk hands up and down horse’s neck, 2 point for the count of 10, sit in 3 point for the count of 5
    3. All Riders – 2 point for the count of 10 with one arm out to the side, sit for count of 5, 2 point with hands on hips
    4. Leap frog – all riders in 2 point in walk, Rider 1 says “leap frog” and the other two transition to trot and pass safely on the inside saying “inside” and then “good afternoon” as they pass, once past transition to walk. Continue until each has had a turn to say “leap frog”.
  6. Riding Skill Explanation (as reflected in objective)
    1. What
      1. 2 point is a balanced position with our seat off the horse’s back.
      2. The release is moving your hands from horse’s wither to 6-8 inches up the horse’s neck.
    2. Why
      1. When horses jump we are in two point to take the weight off their back.
      2. They also need to use their neck or balance so we release to allow them to stretch their neck.
    3. How
      1. 2 point – look ahead, put both hands on the horse’s withers at the red ribbon, push down through your heels, stand up with a bend in your knee and hip
      2. Release – first be in 2 point, look forward, and move your hands about 6-8 inches towards the horse’s ears at the green ribbon (green means go jump!)
      3. The release is done before the pole/jump and held over it. When the horse is on the other side, bring your hands back to the withers to the red ribbon (which means stop/finish the release).
    4. Where
      1. On each long side begin 2 point.
      2. At each pole on the long side, as you come to the green cone move your hands from the neutral position (red ribbon) to the release position (matching green ribbon), after the pole when you reach the red cone put your hands back to the neutral position (the red ribbon).
      3. When the line is completed, gently come back to 3 point position (shoulder, hip, heel).
      4. Repeat down the next long side.
      5. Change rein and repeat.
  1. Safety Check
  2. Practice
    1. Long side over poles in 2 point – release at green cones over poles
  3. Progression (if time allows)
    1. Riders will ride a line, diagonal, line, diagonal with a release over the poles in trot
  4. Wrap Up
    1. Why do we need to do 2 point?
    2. Why is it necessary for a horse to jump?
    3. What else do we need to do to help our horses balance over a jump?
    4. Where do we put our hands for the release?
    5. How long do we release?
  5. Dismount (order an type)
    1. Rider 1 – croup to ground
    2. Rider 2 – croup to ground
    3. Rider 3 – croup to ground
  6. Closing
    1. Gather riders and sidewalkers side by side
    2. Have get in 2 point position on ground with hands in fists
    3. Practice release by moving fists forward
    4. Instructor bumps everyone’s fists and says “knuckles!”
    5. Have riders and sidewalkers face each other, get in 2 point, and give each other knuckles/release

Thank you so much for letting me share, Sandy!

About Sandy (bio from her website Gaits Of Change): Having found success both as a winning equestrian competitor and as a leader and innovator in the therapeutic riding industry, Sandy Webster has a commanding style that inspires all.  Her dedication to educational excellence is the foundation of Gaits of Change. Sandy Webster is a true competitor with a long history of wins and purses as a professional Jockey, Advanced Level 3-Day-Event rider, Dressage competitor and noted Carriage Driver. Additionally, for many years Sandy has been an outstanding innovator and practitioner in the therapeutic riding industry gaining much respect both within and beyond the industry. Sandy’s contributions span all fronts, yet her passion is teaching and education. Sandy’s workshops and speaking engagements are popular and successful. Sandy is an energetic, dynamic presenter who makes the material and work fun. Sandy’s passion for excellence is infectious and students often stay after hours to learn more! Her radiant personality, her belief in achievement and success, and her light but winning touch, motivates and inspires all. With a long list of experience, qualifications and certifications, Sandy has a wealth of knowledge to share.

If you would like to learn more about Sandy’s services, visit

If you would like to contact Sandy, email her at 


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 judgment!

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