Help Your Horsemanship Students Ride Through The Seasonal Time-Crunch

The short days of winter can be challenging for everyone — but we have the ability to help our riding students make the most of their limited time.

Hello darkness, my old friend… said no equestrian ever.

Here in the northern hemisphere*, the sun is sinking earlier every day. The end of Daylight Saving Time feels like impending doom, especially for those of us without lighted, all-weather arenas.

And the changing seasons aren’t the only challenge. School-age students — and their parents — are swamped with homework, projects and extra-curricular activities. If they play a musical instrument or play a fall sport, their practice schedule may be at its most intense, and their Saturdays full of games or competition.

When our students tell us they aren’t riding or practicing because they just haven’t had time, we believe them.

But where there’s a will, there’s a way, and we have the ability to help our students make the most of limited time.

*Our friends in the southern hemisphere might want to revisit this post in April!

Here are a few ideas for inspiring your students to keep progressing, especially during the dark and hectic months around the holidays:

THE PROBLEM: Your students may have big goals - but they’re pulled in so many directions, they find it hard to prioritize. Then they get frustrated by their lack of progress.

Turning dreams into plans into action is an important life skill — and like any other skill, it takes practice.

Consider scheduling routine lessons focused on goal setting and prioritizing. These could be one-on-one meetings or regular group lessons.

Or you might schedule goal-setting sessions as an annual, biannual or quarterly mini-clinic, and make attendance mandatory for aspiring upper level students/show team members.

social meme: horse jumping arena fence - has talent... needs direction

Important: in all of these scenarios, you are getting paid for your time and expertise!

These sessions empower students by turning big goals into achievable, bite-sized steps. They should also become a valuable part of your lesson planning process; after all, our students are paying us to help them achieve their dreams, not ours.

THE PROBLEM: Your students may be highly motivated, but they're only available to ride once a week, and they rarely practice or study on their own.

While limited riding time is less than ideal, we’ve seen students overcome the time-crunch by practicing active learning between lessons. If your students are genuinely invested in advancing their riding, but won’t do horsey homework, they may need a support system — or need things broken down into tiny steps.

Five Minute Challenges can prevent students from feeling overwhelmed. Students are challenged to practice or study something specific for five minutes a day, five times a week.

Even when life is hectic, we can almost always carve out five minutes a day for one of those tiny steps.

(And if those five minutes seem to be hiding, they usually turn up in our phone’s Screen Time report!)

For best results, we suggest giving students a monthly habit tracker and helping them match up with accountability buddies.

Just a few possibilities for Five Minute Challenges:

HorseSense Quizlet set: daily horse care
Use Quizlet for fun 5-Minute HorseSense challenges!

Once a habit is established, your students may even find themselves spending a few more than five minutes each day on Leveling Up their horsemanship skills. Switch out challenges every month, and let students suggest ideas of their own.

Of course, these challenges are on the honor system. But you’ll likely be able to tell if they’re doing the work or not, and if students don’t practice, they’re only hurting themselves.

It can be helpful to explain to parents how horsey homework can help them make the most of their lesson dollars — but use your best judgment here, as an overbearing parent can quickly spoil the fun!

Need more self-study ideas for your students?

THE PROBLEM: Normally simple pre-ride routines can take longer in the winter. If the horse is turned out during the day, students may need to allow for a long walk to catch the horse, to say nothing of the extra time spent currying mud, warming up stiff joints, or cooling out a sweaty winter coat. Not everyone can spend three hours at the barn for a one-hour lesson!

You know just how much care and effort goes into riding a horse year-round. But your students and parents may not understand — and even if they do, they may not feel that it’s their responsibility.

And when everyone’s in a hurry, horses pay the price.

Consider restructuring your lesson times during months of short winter daylight. This can be particularly helpful if your students ride outdoors in cold weather, or you are shorted on lighted workspace.

Private students can easily be taught in half-hour sessions, especially students who can tack up and warm up on their own.

Teaching group lessons or beginners in this time frame can be challenging, no arguments here. But with careful planning and preparation, it IS possible.

two students riding bareback in snowy arena

And if you use it as an opportunity to Level Up your teaching skills, you can fit more students into peak lesson times, increasing your profit without burning out you or your horses!

If you have say in stable management routines, look for additional opportunities to make lesson time more efficient.

Can horses be brought inside for a hay snack an hour before lesson time? Can horses be scheduled for back to back lessons, allowing one rider to handle preparation and a different rider to take care of cooling out?

THE PROBLEM: Morale is low. The footing is poor, the weather is wet and cold, and after a busy season of shows or events, your students are just plain tired.

Just like professionals, students can easily get wrapped up in the daily routines of riding and training, and feel shame whenever they fail to give their horses their all. But burnout happens to the best of us, and sometimes a break is beneficial. After all, there isn’t much point in riding if it makes horse or rider miserable!

As long as our students have realistic expectations for how the break will affect their fitness and the horse’s fitness, we’ll support their decision to give their riding an off-season.

At the same time, horses require care year-round, and our bills need to be paid. We’re up front with our students about the realities of a lesson business, and we explain that if they want to step away from the barn entirely over the winter, we’re going to fill their lesson spot. If students want to be guaranteed a place when the long, warm days of the spring return, they’ll need to find a way to stay involved.

And a break from riding doesn’t need to mean a break from horses altogether. On the contrary, the shorter days of winter can be a great time to focus on often-overlooked basics, such as ground training, exercises at the walk and fundamental barn skills.

instructor helps student guide horse around barrel in winter ground work lesson

Your creativity and enthusiasm will set the tone for winter programming; look for opportunities to host fun unmounted group lessons, HorseSense or Ground Games tournaments, adaptable clinics that can be taught mostly indoors, and barn parties or bareback play days.

Embrace the season of rest and reflection by reviewing photos and video, setting goals and intentions, creating training plans, and simply loving and appreciating the horse.

The short days of winter can be challenging for everyone. But by working with the season instead against it, and encouraging baby steps, you and your students can keep moving forward and make the most of the time you DO have together!

Would you like a book with HUNDREDS of student-approved unmounted lesson activities, games, and revenue-boosting activities… plus sample lesson plans and tips for running unmounted programs? You’re in luck: THE BIG BOOK OF BARN LESSONS is available in paperback and Kindle e-book through Amazon, or you can purchase a PDF version directly from us!

Amazon reviewers say it’s a “must have,” “godsend” and “treasure trove,” among other really nice things.

Bbobl Ebookcover
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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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