5 Paths to Success with Unmounted Horsemanship Lessons

Unmounted learning is essential for good horsemanship and equine welfare — and for the financial stability of a lesson business.

Will horseback riding lesson clients pay for unmounted lesson time?

Some riding instructors and lesson program owners might say “No.” And as we wrote about in THE BIG BOOK OF BARN LESSONS and a previous blog post, there are many reasons why ground-based lessons can fail.

But unmounted learning is essential for good horsemanship and equine welfare — and for the financial stability of a lesson business.

There is plenty of evidence that people WILL pay for equine education, no matter what form it takes or how much saddle time is included.

Don’t you think these are the students we should be encouraging to participate in the horse industry? Rather than accommodating students and parents who ONLY want to ride, shouldn’t we make space for those who care about the horse as an animal instead of a vehicle for their own enjoyment?

We’ve taught hundreds if not thousands of successful unmounted lessons, and we’ll continue to do so through our HorseCentered curriculum.

But we thought it might be inspirational to share some other lesson programs that have been successfully incorporating groundwork, barn lessons, and non-traditional equine experiences

So we chatted with the owners of a few different businesses, and asked them the following questions:

Read their answers – in their own words – and learn more about their wonderfully unique programs:

The Mini Whinnies at Quarter Acre Wood
~ Isabel Lange

We do a lot of horsemanship/groundwork training with students. We do lessons specifically focused on this as well as events, camps, and other activities. We enjoy educating about grooming, leading, obstacle courses, miniature horse jumping, and more.

These sessions provide great exercise and important skills that can translate to in the saddle. They can be calming, and we try to do things that are fun for horse and student. They are important for horse-handler relationship building and connection; help people better understand horse movements, body language, and ‘personality’; and can even boost a student’s confidence to work up to riding.

I would say there are plenty of people who don’t want to pay for things like this, but unmounted lesson time also plays an important role in learning about horses and if more instructors got on board with it, I think more people would understand that there is more to horses than just jumping on and riding.

Many people I work with are content with working with horses on the ground and aren’t even interested in riding. While some do move on to riding, we always start each lesson with some groundwork and leading and whenever there are issues between horse and rider, we many times return to groundwork to remedy those.

A personal example: I actually had Miniature Horses before I learned to ride, but it wasn’t until after I fell off my horse while riding that I learned the importance of working with horses on the ground to build a better connection, to work through spooky things (for both horse and rider), and to ease nerves that can come from being high up in a saddle.

5 Paths To Success With Unmounted Lessons Mini Whinnies At Quarter Acre Wood
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Since then, I’ve turned my focus to helping educate others primarily on groundwork through things like our Paint a Pony event, which is all about grooming and practicing groundwork with our Miniature Horses, followed by some pony painting.

https://mini-w-horsemanship.weebly.com

Hoofbeats in Harmony
~ Mallory Morée

Unmounted horsemanship has always been an integral part of my riding program. Students participate in 6 dimensions of horsemanship — Horse Care, Riding, Ground work, Liberty Training, Physical Fitness, and Equine Literature. My goal is to provide a well rounded program that sets children up for success for a lifetime of enjoying horses.

Feedback from parents tells me that the unmounted aspects of my program are one of the biggest reasons they choose to ride at Hoofbeats in Harmony. I primarily teach children who come from non-horsey families where the parents know very little about these very high maintenance animals. So, learning how to care for and handle a horse on the ground is essential as the family takes the first steps down the path that often ends in horse ownership.

Feedback from the children is also positive! I had one small student tell me she was going to pray for rain because she wanted to do another barn lesson focused on horse care.

My response to someone doubting whether parents will pay for unmounted lesson time would be – Try it! Parents love seeing their child grow in responsibility, self confidence, and determination.

Participating in barn chores and other unpleasant tasks such as taking a horse’s temperature or cleaning manure off an elderly horse’s legs tests and proves the young rider’s commitment to the sport. I’ve personally never had a parent complain about spending lesson time on these types of tasks.

https://hoofbeatsinharmony.com

Horse Powered Reading® facilitator for Reins of Rhythm
~ Ruth Gunnett

Here is a video from the program where I am a facilitator and volunteer. We also take Horse Powered Reading® off the farm and out into the community to parks, schools, libraries, therapy centers and nursing homes as well as summer camps and after school programs.

Social-emotional issues, ADHD, anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns often get in the way of student learning. Horse Powered Reading® can break through those challenges giving students a chance to learn or reinforce reading and other academic skills in the moment.

Horse Powered Reading® integrates social-emotional learning with academics; thus allowing students see and experience reading with their entire mind, body and emotions by creating metaphors for the skills involved in reading.

Students interact with horses from the ground, while using toys and props to identify obstacles and learn five critical reading skills – phonemic awareness, decoding, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension. Issues affecting learning are identified and made visible by the client, through the use of obstacles (toys and props), which symbolize stumbling blocks that get in the way of understanding.

5 Paths To Success With Unmounted Lessons Reins Of Rhythm
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Memory retention and recall improve dramatically when movement anchors learning issues getting in the way of academic and social emotional growth are addressed by our expert team in the moment. Students are allowed to choose their own horse to work with, just as they would choose a book to read Students are then given an opportunity to connect with their chosen “book” (the 4- legged booked as we engage in metaphors).

Sessions allow students a chance to reflect on what they are experiencing and provide an opportunity to create new patterns of learning in a supported environment. During sessions, students are allowed to make discoveries and experiment with knowledge firsthand.

Our facilitators are trained to see what tools (toys and props) the child uses to choose and connect with their book (horse) and how that connection is made. The interaction between client and horse gives the facilitator insight into what the client is experiencing inside and what patterns are working or not working for them. Through this process, the horse creates an opportunity for immediate feedback and experiential learning to take place.

It is amazing to watch just how kids can thrive with the power of the horse!

https://www.reinsofrhythm.org
https://www.horsepoweredreading.com

Horse + Bow
~ Kristine Palmer

At Horse + Bow we offer a Leadership + Life Skill with Horses class. Our class focuses on team building activities, mindfulness exercises, art projects, horse care and more — all with horses at the center. Our kiddos walk next to our horses through horse obstacle courses and other challenges, meditate in the pasture, finger paint on the beautiful canvas of our white pony, and do daily chores associated with horse care.

During this time they learn how horses communicate and how to communicate their own awareness back to the horses. They learn how to connect and build trust with horses. And they learn what a horse needs from humans in order to be healthy and keep everyone safe.

As a result of the time spent interacting with horses, myself and my clients have grown in self-awareness, presence, responsibility, care, compassion, connection, empathy and more.

Clients improve their ability to work well with others, to collaborate and lead, to problem solve and think outside the box. We also see them grow in confidence as they build trust between horse and humans.

There are clients who don’t initially see the value in unmounted time, but if you take the time to explain all of the skills that need to be learned in order to have a productive riding lesson, it makes more sense.

For example, learning how to catch and lead a horse confidently allows a student to arrive early and bring their horse to the barn. Learning how to care for the horse (brushing, tacking, etc.) also allows them to get ready independently, reserving instructor time for the actual riding.

And finally, the mindfulness and team building activities help to develop the character of the horse person so that they are uniquely positioned to have a great relationship with their horse making riding all the more fun.

I have positioned this 8-week course as a prerequisite for taking beginner riding lessons with me and I have only had push back from those who were only willing to have a text/FB message type conversation with me.

Anyone who actually got on the phone to discuss details agrees that this is valuable time and money well spent to begin their child’s journey with horses.

Here is a quote from one of our student’s parents:

“Through our son's journey in the horse leadership program, we've witnessed remarkable growth in his confidence. At ten years old, we gave him the option to continue to do karate or do equine. He picked wanting to work with horses. After completing the program, he wanted to continue working with Kristine. We're immensely proud of his growth and confidence.”

Calling Bird Farm
~ Christen Schweizer

I use the HorseSense Learning Levels and I find kids and parents love the unmounted sessions.

I also teach a program called Straightness Training, which has multiple pillars but most of them are unmounted. Adults really get into this because it’s focused on classical movements and proper biomechanics and balanced mental state (one of the pillars is Liberty).

I have had some people not interested in my program and that’s okay as there are other great options for them. If you change, your client group may change too. But if you wholeheartedly believe in and can thus show passion for the unmounted skills, I think you will enjoy teaching these skills and find that it helps your students and families immensely.

5 Paths To Success With Unmounted Lessons Calling Bird Farm
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Almost anything can be turned into an unmounted lesson! I make plans for my lessons but if something comes up (which often does with horses) then we can be flexible…

It’s wonderful to have a dedicated time, almost like office hours, to carve out for all the things horses need that have nothing to do with riding. I highly recommend it and I hope you take the leap!

https://www.facebook.com/callingbirdfarmllc

Big thanks to everyone who has contributed to this project

It was an honor to chat with every one of these instructors… and what we thought would be a single post will clearly need to become the first in a series!

Do you have a success story related to unmounted lessons? Does your lesson program “think outside the box” when it comes to equine education? If so, drop us a message — we’d love to hear more about it and feature you in a future post!

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We’ve been blessed with many talented photographers over the years: students who voluntarily stood in sweltering/ freezing arenas, capturing lifelong memories of lessons, camps and shows. We’re grateful to all of them!

One former student, Delaney Witbrod, is now a professional photographer with a gift for animal portraits – see more of her fine work here. We’re also grateful for photos of Western riding donated by LLPro instructors – particularly Bit of Pleasure Horse School and Joyful Hearts Photography!

You’ll find illustrations throughout our online courses and printed materials graciously donated by our friend Rhonda Hagy. Evan Surrusco contributes additional illustrations and handles most of our photo processing. Contact us for information about their work.

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