Bending 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 Courtney Mellor, equine manager at Heartland, 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 thought this was a great plan and added my own notes to it!

Bending at the Walk: Lesson Plan for Group with Physical Disabilities
By Courtney Mellor
Given at Advanced Preparatory Workshop July 8, 2014
Added notes in italics


Same three as on this lesson plan

Lesson Plan


  • The riders will demonstrate a true bend of the horse at the walk on a circle 2x each direction with assistance as needed.

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

Arena Set Up:

  • 8 cones
  • CourtneyLesson1

Lesson Content/Procedure

  1. Safety Check
  2. Mount (order and type)
    1. Rider 1 – crest from ramp
    2. Rider 2 – croup from block
    3. Rider 3 – crest from block, independent
  3. Safety check
  4. Introduction
  5. Warmup
    1. Rider 1 – after mounts, neck rolls, chin to shoulder, 3x each direction
    2. Rider 1 + 2 – after Rider 2 mounts and joins Rider 1, backward arm circle, 5x each side, one arm circle back then the other
    3. All Riders – head to tail torso twist, 3x each, reaching with one hand to head while the other reaches to the tail, then switch, to loosen core muscles
  6. Riding Skill Explanation (as reflected in objective)
    1. What
      1. True bend is when the horse’s body is bent in the direction of the circle.
      2. “Not just the neck bending, but the horse bends around your leg with his whole body…this is why we warmed up our body and arms, to be able to ask for this”
    2. Why
      1. A horse that is bending properly can effectively carry his/her rider through a turn, corner or circle in a balanced way at a walk, trot or canter.
      2. Supple the horse’s muscles
      3. Build core strength in the rider
      4. Develop control of body – horse & rider
      5. “coordinate aids with an independent upper body”
    3. How
      1. The rider will use their inside aids to ask the horse to bend by first looking in the direction of the circle, applying the inside leg and an inside rein by bringing the inside shoulder back and the inside hand back toward the rider’s hip. The leg pushed the horse’s barrel out while the hand tips the horse’s head in. While maintaining forward movement.
    4. Where
      1. Begin by using the 4 corners of the arena to establish inside leg pressure and inside rein contact to create and hold the horse’s bend for 5 steps in each corner.
      2. Reverse repeating the same sequence of aids in the opposite direction. Change reins across diagonal. Now you’re on a new bend.
      3. Then, move onto the circle with cones using half of the arena to establish and maintain the horse’s bend throughout the entire circle. 4x
      4. Reverse again and repeat the circle the opposite direction. Change directions across the diagonal. Encouraged riders to “step equally into both stirrups to help the horse straighten, then bend him the other direction”. Did bend in 2 corners before starting circles the new direction.
      5. CourtneyLesson2
      6. During this time Courtney stood in the corner so she could see all the riders at once. Afterward she noted she really liked this standing outside of the circle, but next time would stand at the other side of the arena instead of in the corner, which was awkward.
  1. Safety Check
  2. Practice
    1. see “where” above
    2. Checks in – asks “how is [so and so, your horse] feeling today? Is she following your leg?” (When the rider responded “it feels like she’s following the leader and I’m not in control” Courtney’s response was great, “That’s the beauty of this exercise and bending – the horse is responding to your LEG not the leader.”
    3. Excellent feedback to the whole group and individual riders – well timed to really help them understand the skill
  3. Progression (if time allows)
    1. Trot through short end corners and complete the circle if balanced. 2x each direction. Halt riders at far end while take turns one at a time practicing bending through the corners at the trot.
    2. CourtneyLesson3
      1. Afterward it was noted she should have kept the riders moving instead of just halted in line, so they could still receive the benefit of the horse’s movement.
      2. When one rider commented “my horse tries to cut corners” she answers “well that’s why the inside leg is so important!” 
      3. We discussed her choice to progress to trotting instead of something else such as a figure 8 or triangle. It was chosen because the riders enjoy trotting, and one of the riders gets bored easily. However, it was pointed out that for the high tone rider the trotting just increased her tone for the rest of the day – not beneficial. And because the riders were unable to apply the bending aids well, it became about trotting, not bending. This was a good example of considering the rider’s life goals, and how their riding lesson affects the rest of their day.
      4. Courtney reflected that she could have had better time management, because they trotted 3x one direction then only 1x the other direction, due to running out of time.
    3. A second planned progression was to trot on the circle, but afterward Courtney commented they did not to this because she felt the riders were not ready, so they stuck to the just the corners. Sandy noted this was a good perspective, versus follow-the-lesson-plan-no-matter-what.
  4. Wrap Up
    1. What did the rider feel from the horse?
    2. Why is bending of the horse important – for the horse, for the rider?
    3. What aids were used?
    4. The riders enjoyed this lesson, had fun and were engaged.
  5. Dismount (order an type)
    1. Rider 1 – crest to ground
    2. Rider 2 – croup to ground
    3. Rider 3 – crest to ground, independent

Much thanks to Courtney for letting me share her lesson plan!


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!

2 thoughts on “Bending at the Walk: Lesson Plan for Group with Physical Disabilities

  1. I am loving these posts – thank you so much. We are in the Uk and we call our organisation Riding for the Disabled. I’m learning to be a Coach and am getting so much from you all – thank you !

  2. Love that I just googled “Bending Lesson plan therapeutic riding” and this popped straight up. Perfect for tomorrow’s class! Thank you.

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