Teaching from the center of the arena is one of the hardest things for Instructors in Training to learn! But it’s an important teaching technique to learn for several reasons:
Why teach from the center of the arena?
- In group lessons, you are able to see all of the riders at once – and if you keep them together, never turn your back on anyone
- You can see everything that’s going on in the rest of the arena
- It encourages you to use and delegate to your sidewalkers, instead of doing everything yourself
- It encourages the use of a clear lesson plan – of bringing riders to you to discuss something, then sending them off to practice
- It encourages teaching to the whole group instead of running around to each individual
- It’s less wear and tear on your body to stay in one place than walk through deep dirt all day!
How to learn to teach in the center:
- Put a hula hoop or pole box in the center, and make yourself stay in it all the time except for mounting and tack checks!
Tips for teaching from the center:
- Start the lesson from the center. As soon as everyone is mounted and riding, get to the center of the arena, and look around. Take stock of what’s going on, do a big sweep safety check: How is the arena -gates closed? How are the riders – relaxed? How are the stirrup lengths – okay? How are the horses – attentive and well spaced? How are the volunteers – in the right place? How is the arena setup – anything in the way or distracting? Next, call the class to attention and start. Say something like, “Okay, now that everyone’s mounted and on, we’re going to start the lesson!” Take this time to address any issues like horse spacing, volunteer positions, distractions, etc.
- First tack check from the center. Right away, usually after everyone has walked a lap, bring everyone single file down the center line. Check their posture from the front, halt and check tack and fix stirrups as needed, then check their posture from behind. So you get your checks in right away!
- Check alignment as they ride by. When you have them switch directions across the arena and pass by you, check their alignment from the front and back, and either comment that it’s great or what adjustments to make.
- Always bring riders to the center to check tack and fix stirrups. That way you can see the rest of the riders well, and the pair is not near the wall in case anything were to happen, and you are not squeezing between volunteers and the wall to adjust things in a way that is dangerous. If the rider has a problem, tell the sidewalkers to thigh hold and come in to the center and we’ll fix the stirrup here, or adjust tack, or discuss it – unless it’s an emergency, like the saddle majorly slipping and the rider’s falling, obviously!
- Bring them in, then send them out! Bring them in to teach, then send them out to practice. When instructing anything that needs their full attention, or making transitions within your lesson plan, (such as teaching the skill or giving game instructions), bring the riders to the center (discuss it at the halt for only a minute or two, keep it short), then send them back out to work it with their volunteers while you give feedback from the center. I find this helps all of us be more clear on what is happening in the lesson and what they are to work on now. For example: after warm ups bring them in to line up in front of you, do your tack check, explain the skill of direct rein steering, practice at the halt, explain you would like them to practice direct rein steering through the cones and how much help sidewalkers will give, then send them out to practice.
- Empower volunteers to assist riders. Sending your riders out, not running beside them all the time, makes you depend on your volunteers to help them carry out the instructions as needed. Many riders tune out someone far away, and do better with someone right there beside them, so your volunteer is your mediator. Tell them exactly what you want. Meet with them before the lesson and explain how much to help or wait, and what prompts to use. In the lesson instruct the volunteers by speaking to the rider: “Timmy, if you forget to use your reins, Margie will wait a few seconds then remind you and tap your hand, if that doesn’t remind you she will help you by moving your hand back.” It’s pretty amazing how well riders will do when you empower volunteers to help instruct them all the time, instead of you running back and forth between riders so each one gets you part of the time.
- Run activities and games from the center. For example, start and end the game at you. Have a barrel there with you, and send riders out to find cards, then bring them back to you to find the matching partner.
Tips for teaching someone to teach from the center (for mentors):
- I use the hula hoop or draw a circle in the dirt with my boot, which the instructor must stay in!
- As soon as the riders are mounted, encourage the IT (Instructor in Training) to get to the center of the arena and call the class to attention, then bring them down the center line to check tack and alignment.
- Encourage the IT to stay in the center circle except for leaving to check tack. So if there’s an issue or stirrup problem, they must ask the rider to come to them!
- In the same way of “Bring them in, then send them out” above, bring the IT’s attention to a few things to work on for the next few minutes or time they send the riders out, then add something the next round, and the next. For example: the IT brings the riders in to the center and explains the skill then sends the riders out, and you notice they did not instruct the volunteers how to assist the riders at all; so let them go a lap around the arena, then point out how the volunteers aren’t sure how to help and encourage the IT to this next round explain to the sidewalkers exactly how to help; so the IT does this and this time you notice the riders are looking comfortable and ready to progress, so encourage the IT to progress this next round choose some sort of progression for each rider by first praising something about the rider then giving them something to work on next time; and so on. I do this when there are some things the IT needs to work on, and it seems more effective to be right there guiding them through learning the method in the moment, rather than noting it from afar and telling them to work on it next time.
So it bears noting that teaching from the center is not the end all be all. It’s just a technique, which isn’t going to work for every situation.
Why NOT teach from the center?
- There are many viewpoints from the arena that are just as good – that allow you to see all the riders all the time and teach to the group. For example, the riders are riding a circle on one half of the arena, so you choose to stand in the corner instead. (However I would say if there are stirrup etc. issues still always bring them to the center so they’re not right by the wall).
- You are in the way. For example, they are riding a figure 8, so you can’t stay in the middle or you’ll get run over, so you stand to the side near the wall at B, where you can still see everyone and not be in the way.
- There is more than one instructor in the arena. When you are competing for space and volume, you may need to stay closer to your rider/s and walk with them, or divide the arena in two and stay on your half.
- There is an emergency. Obviously if something is happening, you are the instructor and need to go to them to help!
What are your thoughts about teaching from the center? How does it work, or not work?
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! If you would like to contribute an activity or article, please contact me here, I would love to hear from you!