Stride Lengthening at the Walk: Lesson Plan for Group with Physical 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 Martia Wassman, program director of Ride On St. Louis, Inc., who did this as a practice mock advanced level lesson, and received feedback from the instructor/evaluator Sandy Webster, as well as the workshop attendants. I madly wrote notes the whole time and have incorporated them, because this lesson was so great!

Stride Lengthening at the Walk: Lesson Plan for Group with Physical Disabilities
By Marita Wassman
Given at Advanced Preparatory Workshop July 8, 2014
Added notes in italics


Same three as on this lesson plan

Lesson Plan


  • The riders will perform a stride lengthening in the walk 4 times each direction on the long side between F and M, and H and K.

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)
  • Wrap the right legs of each horse for a visual aid

Arena Set Up:

  • 4 cones
  • MaritaLesson1

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, ride without stirrup in 20 meter circles around center cones, both directions
    2. Rider 1 + 2 – after Rider 2 mounts and joins Rider 1, both ride without stirrups and perform arm reaches to ask high as possible toward the roof, alternating right arm then left, with deep breathing.
    3. All Riders – shoulder rolls with deep breath (cue up, back, down)
    4. Check in comfort level for continuing to ride without stirrups – pick up stirrups if needed, but prefer none to give uninhibited feel of horse’s motion
  6. Riding Skill Explanation (as reflected in objective)
    1. What
      1. Stride Lengthening – the horse will lengthen each step/stride to cover more ground. The horse’s movement should feel larger or increase the rider’s seat/hip motion (the increased length may feel as if you’re going faster. Lengthening is not the same as quickening, the horse should stretch out, not just take quicker steps. You should be able to feel the breeze in your face because you’re covering more ground!
    2. Why
      1. teaches horse to move off the leg
      2. activates the “motor” or hind end (pushing power)
      3. differentiates the walk lengthening cue from the trot cue
      4. prepares the horse for more advanced movement (leg yield, shoulder in, turn on forehand, canter depart)
      5. encourages more engagement
    3. How
      1. Ask: “Does anyone already know how to tell your horse to walk faster versus start trotting?” Answer: “Use your legs alternating in a way or at a time that tells the horse to step longer.”
      2. look ahead
      3. rest lower leg against horse’s barrel (can be slightly behind girth for introducing the cue)
      4. allow lower leg to move/swing with the barrel
      5. increase pressure in alternating rhythm following the under swing of the barrel
    4. Where
      1. Tracking down long sides looking into mirror or at large cones on rail between F-M or H-K.
  1. Safety Check
    1. How are legs?
  2. Practice
    1. Down long sides, looking into mirror or at large cones
    2. At this point Marita broke it down beautifully in the following steps:
      1. Walk on a circle to the right, on one end of the arena (she set up cones on the 4 quarters of a circle to help guide them) – instructor makes sure they are spread out, and stands outside the circle so she never has her back to one
      2. Riders drop stirrups to loosen/open their hips up to follow their horse’s movement
      3. Teach riders the steps of the walk
        1. Tells riders she wrapped the horses’ right legs to help us think about how a horse walks, because they use their hind end as the motor
        2. Asks riders to to the right across the circle at their friend’s horse’s wrapped legs, watch the back leg step first and then the fore leg – “right, right” – the hind leg starts the step, that’s why it’s the motor, or the pushing power
        3. Change directions (she had them turn left at the rail and make a lap around the arena then start circling the new direction, so the turns were nice and wide to keep the riders balanced)
        4. Ask riders to watch the horse’s legs again this direction
      4. Teach riders to feel the steps of the walk
        1. Ask riders to feel the horse’s hips stepping under them, and feel how when their right hip is dropped the horse’s right leg is stepping under them
        2. Ask riders to look to the left at the rider across from them and see how when the horse steps that person’s hip drops
        3. Review – ask if everyone sees that “right, right, left, left” pattern, and feels the pattern pushing underneath them 
      5. Walk on the rail
        1. Ask riders to bring their legs back slightly, holding them lightly on the horse, and ID how when the horse steps with his right leg, your own right leg goes under you. Tell them to follow the movement of the horse and let your hip drop and swing with his. Identify the timing for each rider and ask, “Can you feel that?”
      6. Check in to make sure their legs are ok and not tired.
      7. Add leg cues – 2 laps on rail
        1. Now we’re going to use each leg to ask each hind hoof to reach further forward when it steps off the ground, because that’s when it’s easiest for the horse to do it. We cue by closing our legs, hugging his barrel, adding right leg when the right hip drops, and leg leg when the left hip drops, because that asks him to lengthen at the same time that he brings his leg under. Also relax your hips to encourage this. 
        2. Practice on long walls, identify for them “right, left, right, left” with verbal prompts
        3. Adapt as needed (one rider couldn’t maintain the legs hugging, so the instructor said it’s okay to bring your leg off and add it on when needed instead
        4. Encourages them to look in the mirror to see themselves
        5. After a few walls asks them to close their eyes to feel it and really connect with the horse
      8. Change directions, same practice – 2 laps on rail
  3. Progression (if time allows)
    1. Pick up stirrups
      1. halt in center, tack check, then pick up stirrups at halt
      2. back on rail and try again, now with stirrups
    2. Ride walk lengthening to free walk across diagonal, between cones
      1. After 2 laps with stirrups, changed directions across the diagonal. “Now let’s make your horse really lengthen so you can feel the wind in your face!” Instructor cued leader to help the horses out by walking energetically and using the lead rope in time with the horse’s stride.
      2. Note: one rider with poor balance relied heavily upon the saddle’s tassels to encourage her horse instead of using her legs – the instructor encouraged her to keep her eyes up looking at the cone, and use her legs instead of the tassels (appropriately assessing that she was able to do this)
  4. Wrap Up
    1. What is lengthening?
    2. What is the cue? Review lengthen vs. trot aids
    3. Why is it important to follow the swing?
    4. Also asked “How did you like it?” One rider said it was easier without stirrups. The instructor said “Yes it is, that’ why we did no stirrups first, so it was easier and you were able to connect with your horse and loosen your hips before adding the stirrups back in.” 
  5. Dismount (order an type)
    1. Rider 2 – croup to ground
    2. Rider 3 – croup to ground
    3. Rider 1 – croup to ground


  • Instructor said she would like liked to progress to off lead to give the riders more independence and allow better movement of the horse without the leaders.
  • Instructor said she would have given the one rider who was unable to hug the horse with her legs an additional sidewalker to add the experience of feeling this (the rider only had 1).
  • I thought Marita did a great job of breaking it down in a way the riders understood and wanted – you could tell these riders wanted depth. She gave great individual feedback and use of their names. She did a good job with well timed feedback, letting riders know when they got it right.

Much thanks for Marita for letting me share her lesson plan!

About Marita (bio from Ride On St. Louis, Inc): 

(Program Director and Founder) Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor and Mentor with PATH International and has over 20 years’ experience in therapeutic riding and with 35 years’ experience in variety of equestrian enterprises. Marita trained and worked with top equestrian professionals such as Liz Young Millard (’68 United States Olympic Equestrian team), Otis Brown Stables, Pecan Tree stables and LePere Thoroughbred Training Center. These equestrian facilities included disciplines in hunter, jumper, dressage and conditioning thoroughbreds, and she gained knowledge in breeding, foaling, training and designing youth and adult riding programs. She is also a member of the American Hippotherapy Association and the Equine Facilitated Mental Health Association.


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!

One thought on “Stride Lengthening at the Walk: Lesson Plan for Group with Physical Disabilities

  1. Cindy,
    I love that you are sharing Lesson Plans from your Adv Workshop. I attended an ADV Prep with Sandy Webster in Aug at Healing Strides of VA and found it amazing. Thank you for sharing! I am always looking for ways to add to my lesson plan bag of skills.

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