How to make unmounted HorseSense part of your program
Ask any great equestrian what they’d like to see in the next generation of riders, and most likely, they’ll wish for kids to get back to the barn. The road to success is paved with hours spent wrapping legs, cleaning tack, soaking beet pulp, and holding horses for the farrier – an experience that many students, sadly, just don’t get.
Tell them why they need it
As a riding instructor, you have the power to facilitate a well-rounded education both in and out of the saddle.
This starts with explaining the importance of unmounted barn time to students and their families. Your list of reasons might include the following points:
Expect some time-crunch challenges
Even if you preach the values of time spent in the barn, some lesson clients might not buy in immediately.
The kids say they have too many demands on their time already (schoolwork, sports and extracurricular activities, social life) and they would rather be riding.
Parents also feel the time crunch, and may not see the value in barn work – especially if they have no plans to buy a horse. They may be resentful of paying for unmounted time or their kids “working for free.”
sneaky tip #1 - rainy day barn lessons
Rainy day unmounted lessons are standard practice in our program, assuming we can work safely under cover.
By emphasizing the need for these lessons up front, you can solve two problems at once: students are getting unmounted education AND you can count on your scheduled lessons happening rain or shine. This saves us during temperamental Georgia summers, where pop-up thunderstorms derail lesson lineups without notice, and moody Georgia winters, where we experience pouring rain, frozen ground, and seventy-degree temperatures that roast ponies in winter coats – all in the same week!
We have a lot of thoughts on rainy day lessons and how to help your students – and parents – love them. Look for a blog post on this topic soon!
sneaky tip #2 - offer prizes and glory
Offer incentives to students who participate in a program of unmounted study. We require students to complete specific HorseSense levels to be eligible to lease a horse, or travel to an off-site show. There is nothing arbitrary about this – anyone riding outside of lessons needs to be able to recognize signs of lameness, or find specific items in the first aid kit.
We offer contests for HorseSense participants, such as the annual Summer HorseSense Challenge. Students earn points for checkmarks earned in June and July, with a one-day private camp awarded as the Grand Prize.
We also host barn sleepover parties, only for HorseSense students, where students who have earned a Green HorseSense ribbon or higher help with barn chores, get a free ride and participate in arena games and fun until well after dark.
sneaky tip #3 - use group motivation
Peer pressure can be powerful, especially if you group campers or clinic attendees by their HorseSense Levels. Students will be motivated to continue progressing in their unmounted skills to keep pace with each other – no one wants to be the member of the friend group that gets left behind.
sneaky tip #4 - build a community
Help students get connected. Some students are passionate enough to spend hours immersed in barn life, with or without friends. But for many kids, enthusiasm and initiative is linked to their participation in a tribe.
Help them bond by hosting working student days, tack cleaning parties, and pasture-mucking “Poop Parties.” (We live in a time where you can buy poop-emoji cupcake molds. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by!) They’ll learn a lot about the nitty-gritty of running a barn, but they’ll also have a good time with the people who scrubbed troughs by their side.
sneaky tip #5 - Share your passion
Your energy and attitude is contagious. If you cheerfully embrace all aspects of horse care, your students are more likely to do the same.
Horses are complex, fascinating creatures and we are never done learning about them!
Ask your riders questions about tack and equipment. Discuss nutrition, exercise physiology, and preventative health care with your advanced students at every available opportunity. Make unmounted learning fun, positive, and a part of your program from day one.