Welcome to the official blog of HorseSense Learning Levels!
After fifteen years (and counting) of teaching horseback riding, we’ve accumulated a wide variety of questions and thoughts we’d like to share. We believe that a good equestrian should never stop learning and asking questions. Whether you are a student, instructor, program director, or just a fellow horse lover interested in our system, we hope you stay awhile and join in our conversations.
First, a bit of history
Zahtar was actually the catalyst that led us to our first barn. Now a two-horse family with a very small budget, we found the cost of full board prohibitive, and began looking into other options.
By this point, Nikki had developed a love of teaching through Pony Club and an informal apprenticeship with a local mounted patrol instructor. She also had a couple of walk-trot students riding the half-Arab, who was in her late teens and had developed some sense.
When moving the horses became unavoidable, we ended up forming a small co-op and leasing a vacant barn. The goal was to teach just enough lessons on Heaven and Zahtar to support our horse habit. Ha!
Little did we guess that within two years, we would have thirty students, a ten-horse barn, multiple summer day camps, and a full-time job … and that we were just getting started.
Build it and they will come
The Learning Levels came about for two reasons.
First and foremost, our experiences with USPC, 4-H, and the early days of Parelli Natural Horsemanship had given us an appreciation for a clear system providing goals for progression.
Our barn was located in rural area well outside the affluence of metro Atlanta. We wanted to recognize our student’s progression and achievements even if they could only afford a couple of lessons a month, never attended a show, and never owned a horse of their own.
We also wanted to emphasize safety in our program, which meant providing a very clear picture of the skills required for advancement. Most beginners want to know: “When will I canter? When will I jump? When can I trail ride, horse show, gallop in the fields…?” The Levels, we hoped, would provide answers to these questions.
We found that sticking to our guns and requiring students to progress Level by Level actually did make our program safer; the year the Levels were implemented, our number of falls noticeably decreased, especially in children learning to canter.
This was a powerful concept for a young, relatively new instructor: learning to ride takes the time it takes, and nothing is gained by rushing ahead!
Success is in the system
Over the years, the Learning Levels defined our riding program and gave it a consistent structure.
Having this system has helped us in innumerable ways. The Learning Levels have formed the backbone of our class schedule and our lineup of camps and clinics.
They provide a clear expectation for students, so they can set goals and understand their rate of progress.
They provide a clear expectation for teachers, preventing confusion and educational gaps when multiple instructors are working together.
And they’ve helped students invest in riding with us for the long haul. We still have college-aged students schedule custom camps during school holidays to finish up Levels.
We also started to appreciate the time-saving benefits of having this curriculum as our framework.
By developing teaching materials and lesson plans for each of the Levels, we had everything we needed to plan a camp or a surprise rainy day lesson on the fly. It also reduced the amount of time spent prepping and note-taking for each lesson.
From our barn to yours
Recently, our business model shifted considerably.
The needs of our aging school horses and ailing family members, combined with the economic realities of maintaining a lesson string without owning property, forced us to reevaluate our priorities and goals. As much as we loved our busy little riding school, it was time to put family first and give our hard-working horses the retirement they richly deserved.
Now, we offer lessons and camps on a freelance basis, and are finally able to spend time on making our educational materials available to other instructors.
When we began talking about this transition with our barn family, in addition to meeting with each student individually, we gave out a survey to determine how we could still help them achieve their goals.
The one question we got asked more than any other, by far: “Will you still offer the Levels?” Every single one of our continuing students – and a surprising majority of them continued! – listed “Pursuing Horsemanship and HorseSense Levels” as a high priority.
In other words, we’ve found something that really works for us.
So we started sharing the Learning Levels curriculum and study guides, first with other local instructors, then to a wider audience through our barn’s website.
That showed us that it works for other equine professionals, too.
Our hope is that by sharing our system, we can make YOUR busy lives just a little bit easier, and help you create the perfect system that works for you.