Lesson Planning: The Practice & Activity

Sometimes we get so excited about what activity we’re going to do with our students we jump in to the game or pattern without giving much time to actually practicing the skill first. In this post I want to review the different between practicing the skill and using the skill in an activity, because some riders really need to do the one before the other!

Lesson Planning: The Practice & Activity

The Practice

  • What
    • Is a simple practice of the skill, without worry/distraction by props or patterns, that sets the rider up well to participate in the activity or game.
  • Why
    • Some riders need time to learn a skill before applying it in a more complicated situation such as a pattern or game. So practicing it on the wall or at a halt first will help them learn the muscle memory before going on to something harder or multi-tasking.
    • But not all riders need much practice. A more experienced rider can go straight to practicing the skill in the pattern (ex: quickly review steering, then go straight performing steering through serpentines).
  • How
    • Right after teaching the skill, give them some time to practice the skill before moving on to using the skill in a pattern or activity.
    • The practice can be done at the halt or walk (ex: 2 point at the halt; steering circles on the rail, etc.)
    • Practice the skill several times until they get the basics of it (ex: for steering it can be as short as bringing your hand to your pocket 3x on each side, or longer such as steering a circle on the rail 2x each direction)
    • Move on to the activity when the riders have the basics down well enough they can use it in an activity (usually doesn’t take too long)
    • Not all riders will have the best attention span, you may need to use some small props or actiity to make this engaging (ex: steer by bringing rein back to hip pocket at the halt – put red bracelet on right wrist and right hip, green bracelet on left wrist and left hip)

The Activity

  • What
    • The activity lets the rider practice their skill in an engaging/motivating environment
    • The activity reinforces the objective & skill of the lesson
    • The activity must be age appropriate
    • The activity is not always needed, you may just need to keep practicing
  • Why
    • Engages the rider
    • Motivates the rider to practice the skill
    • Keeps the rider’s attention
    • Incorporates other life skills – memory, competitive skills, social interactions, etc.
  • How
    • Plan for what obstacles/props you need, and set up the arena before the lesson. If during the lesson you realize you forgot something, don’t leave the arena to get it, but ask a volunteer to get it.
    • Introduce the activity
      • During the lesson, after the rider has practiced the skill enough to get a grasp of it, introduce the activity (“Today we’re going to practice steering by riding through an obstacle course.”)
    • Explain the activity
      • Quick explanation, appropriate to the riders (“First you will weave the cones, Second you’ll halt by the barrel and get a bean bag, Third you’ll walk to the other barrel, Fourth you’ll halt and drop the bean bag on the other barrel.”
      • Review the steps if appropriate to riders
    • Do the activity
      • Direct them how to begin – who goes first? One at a time? Follow the leader? How much assistance is needed?
      • Progress as appropriate to riders (ex: after first round, remove leaders)
      • Give praise and feedback, focusing on the riding skill


I hope that helps clarify things! By no means is this THE RULE, just some helpful tips of what I’ve been leaning. The point I want to make is that we need to give our riders time to grasp the riding skill before engaging them in an activity that could potentially inhibit their learning. For example, if you teach a new rider to halt, then immediate have him practice by halting by the T pole to collect the rings, he may get so distracted by the rings he forgets to halt, or leans toward the rings while halting, or something else that throws off his posture or correct use of the skill, because he hasn’t established understanding the correct use of the skill yet (this happened to me!). However, once he understand correct use of the skill by practicing halting at several letters, then he is ready to use the skill to halt by the pole to get the ring – which at this point might give him good motivation for stopping if the letters have started to get boring.

Have a great week of teaching!


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!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *