Teaching Techniques: The Basics

Here’s even more notes on teaching techniques that I’ve given ITs (Instructor in Training). This is actually the first one I usually hand out first. It’s about general teaching techniques that aren’t detailed in other handouts/posts but are just as important, and a good place to start.

Teaching Techniques: The Basics

Give Simple Instructions

  • Get their attention first, make sure they’re paying attention
  • Keep instructions simple – not all riders can comprehend the details.  Be specific and concise. Here’s a good post about how to talk to your students this way.
  • Keep skill explanations simple, then add detail as they practice
  • Use words and concepts most familiar to the rider’s everyday life
  • Use preparatory phrases
    • “prepare to…”
    • “get ready to…”
    • “on the count of 3…”
  • Use repetition – it may take a lot! But often they need to hear it a lot. (Don’t we all?)
  • Use volunteers – ask them to remind your riders of instructions in the same simple way
  • Wait! a good 5-10 seconds for the rider to respond before doing anything else – see this post on waiting
  • “First…then…” is another great way to give simple instructions – see this post on first/then

How To Get Their Attention

  • Use a loud teacher voice
  • Halt the class (on the rail or facing you side by side)
  • Use a dramatic gesture
  • Ask them to look at you (but be aware that some disabilities, such as autism or sensory processing disorder, may prevent them from being able to hear what you’re saying while also looking at you)
  • Wait, don’t start speaking until they’re really all paying attention
  • Before class, ask volunteers to help redirect the attention of riders who are distracted (if needed)


  • Show them with your body what to do
  • You/volunteer/another rider walk through the pattern
  • Walk in front of the rider and demonstrate (ex: which rein to use as you turn)

Physical/Tactile Instruction

  • Put their own body in the right position
  • Demonstrate it yourself first, so they see what’s coming
  • Ask if you can touch their wrist/hand/leg/etc. to show them (or say “I’m going to…”)
  • Use firm touch, not soft (annoying) touch

Give Choices

  • Instead of always directing, let the rider choose the task/activity
  • Beware of those that always choose the last option they heard
    • ex) “Would you like the red ball or blue ball?” “Blue ball.” You ask again to check, “Ok, so the blue ball or red ball?” “Red ball.” You realize they are just repeating the last thing they heard (a common occurrence) and change tactics. “Hm, I don’t understand. You may grab the ball you want to use.”

Use Analogies

  • Explain a concept using a visual picture of something they are familiar with
    • ex) “Hold the reins like you’re holding ice cream cones, upright so the ice cream doesn’t fall, and not so tight you break the cone!”

Ask Questions

  • Ask questions after giving instructions as review and to see if they understand.
    • ex) “So what was step 1?”
  • Questions should be specific and thought provoking (not broad like “what about…”)
  • Not exclusive (calling a specific rider’s name first leaves out the others – first ask the question, then call a name if needed)
  • Not yes/no question, but one that shows whether they really understand

But Don’t State Commands As Questions

  • Don’t state anything as a question that you’re not prepared to accept the answer “no” to.
    • Ex) “Would you walk your horse to the left?” or “Would you start off the group through the pattern?”
  • For more about when to ask questions or not, see this post: About Asking Questions.

Teach To The Group

  • Teach to the whole group. Have everyone work on the same skill and activity, but adapt/modify for each rider’s situation.
  • If you have one person do it, have all the others do it.
  • AKA, don’t start teaching a different lesson to each individual in the same group. It spreads you too thin, and you might start spending more time on one person than another. You are not teaching a bunch of private lessons together, but a group lesson.

Use Levels Of Prompting

  • Start with the most amount of information, then remove it as the rider no longer needs the verbal support or to test how well the rider can do it on their own.
  • 1) What, Where, How, Why – “Turn by the cone, bring your right hand back to your hip, so your horse knows where to go.”
  • 2) What, Where, How – “Turn by the cone, by bringing your right hand back to your hip.”
  • 3) What, Where – “Turn by the cone.”
  • 4) What – “Turn at A” or “Let’s turn again in the same spot.”

Other Important Teaching Techniques

Up next: the coming soons above.


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!


2 thoughts on “Teaching Techniques: The Basics

  1. Another great post! This wraps up so many good reminders and it’s always helpful to review basics. All of these tips apply to my class, of which 2 of my 4 riders are new to the program. Thank you!

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