Addressing Volunteers

Once an Instructor in Training gets the basics of teaching a lesson, you need to start incorporating more active volunteer management. This means making sure your volunteers are supporting the rider correctly, being safe, and helping the lesson run smoothly. To do this you must communicate with the volunteers by giving them praise and correction, just like with your riders. But how do you address volunteers during a lesson? What if you can’t remember their names? This came up recently with our Instructors in Training, so here are some ideas. Feel free to add!

Addressing Volunteers

If you need to get the volunteers’ attention during a lesson – either to address an issue or encourage them – here are some options:

  • Use their name (more directed and personal) – work hard at remembering them!
  • Use their rider’s name: “Molly’s sidewalkers,” “Molly’s helpers,” or “Molly’s friends” (great for when you forget the volunteers’ names)
  • Speak to the rider’s group: “Great work Team Molly!”
  • Speak to everyone: “Okay leaders, remember…” (more general, instead of calling one person out)
  • Speak through the rider: “We’re working on pulling to our pocket, so Molly, if you forget to use your reins to steer, Suzy is going to first remind you and then even help your hand back.”
  • Direct them for next time: “Okay team Molly, next time we go through the obstacle course only the sidewalker on the same side as you are steering is going to help you out.” (helpful if you missed the moment of giving feedback, or don’t want to make a big deal about it in the moment)
  • When you give praises and corrections, include the how’s and why’s just like with your riders. Then they understand there is a good reason instead of feeling threatened, and hopefully are more likely to remember for the next time.
  • I also like to make corrections seem like not a big deal unless it’s happened a few times before already, because we all make mistakes and are in this together. I usually end with something like, “No worries, [you’re doing a great job overall / you didn’t know / it’s probably habit / or some other kind comment], just remember for next time.”

Also consider preparing your volunteers throughout the lesson to do their job well:

  • Ideally meet with them before mounting to discuss how to interact with their rider. This is a good time to memorize their names if you don’t know them already!
  • After the mount, remind them how much assistance the rider needs for the activities they will be doing.
  • At transition points (after warmups, after the skill, after each activity, etc.) take time to reevaluate how to use your volunteers and redirect them as needed (for example have them remove their support to help the rider be more independent).
  • After the lesson meet again and discuss how to improve for next lesson, including taking their suggestions for what might help their interactions with the rider (I’ve been amazed at how well this works, it helps create the feeling that we’re all in this together as a team, and they usually remember the plan better than I do!).

I hope that helps!

What other ways do you use to address the volunteers during lessons?

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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 “Addressing Volunteers

  1. Our volunteers have name tags. They are color coded. White for basic volunteers. Horse leaders get green and Volunteer Team Leaders get silver.
    I also try to keep the same team each week. This way they get to know the rider and how much and appropriate support the rider needs.

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