The Boss Mares Blog

Lessons from 2020: Online Equine Education is Here to Stay

If our students are getting limited barn time, for whatever reason, we’re going to use all the online equine tools we have available to help them feel motivated, successful, and connected with their barn family.

At the end of each year, we like to look back at our year of teaching like we’re evaluating a training ride. We identify areas where we need to go back to basics, and establish areas of progress to carry forward to the new year.

If 2020 was a horse, it would have been a year of bucking, bolting, and spooking stops — it sometimes felt like we were the ones who needed to stop for a lick and chew!

But we always try to leave the arena – or year – on a positive note. A few hopeful takeaways as we begin equine education planning for 2021:

No online experience is ever going to replace barn time. Kids and adults both need to get unplugged and back to nature. We need dirty fingernails and a clear mind. We need the ritual of grooming and soothing, repetitive hours of practice.

And there’s no substitute for time spent with the greatest of teachers: the horse.

But survival in business sometimes means adapting to meet your market’s needs.

And if our students are getting limited barn time, for whatever reason, we’re going to use all the online tools we have available to help them feel motivated, successful, and connected with their barn family.

Our equine technology tool box includes:

For years, a fixture of our summer day camps and Level Up clinics was a battered old original model Geosafari.

When we say old, we’re not kidding; our machine taught homeschool geography back in the 1990s, and you can now find it listed on Ebay under “vintage electronics”.

But our students loved the flashing lights and competitive scoring, and we created dozens of cards teaching pony parts, tack, breeds, colors, conformation faults and more.

students playing equine learning game on old Geosafari
Our ancient but well-used Geosafari
Quizlet - HorseSense classroom horse breeds matching game
Matching game from our Quizlet classroom

Quizlet.com is the closest online substitute we’ve found, with the added bonus of being mobile-friendly and accessible to any student who creates a free Quizlet account.

Each study set contains terms, definition and images, with options to study, take written tests, or play matching games. By inviting students to join a classroom, you can track their participation and progress.

There are a few quirks we’d like to see Quizlet iron out – some modes ask for written answers, with no mercy for incorrect spelling, and the classroom analytics can be confusing and inefficient to navigate.

Still, our students find it a quick and easy way to refresh their knowledge or prepare for an upcoming lesson.

You can involve students in the process of creating study sets or issue a challenge – who can beat your Match high score? Award a prize to the student who completes the most sets in a specific time frame.

YouTube playlists

These days, when we ask any student how they learn something new, we get one of two answers: “Google it” or “YouTube it.” YouTube in particular is becoming a increasingly popular way to find tutorials, especially for visual learners.

You can use this to your advantage by creating curated playlists to share with your students.

Our official Learning Levels YouTube channel has growing playlists for each Level. We can direct students to a specific video, such as a dressage test or a demonstration of posting diagonals, as needed.

For example, we ask students in our Teal Level study group to pick a video to watch from the Teal playlist and discuss why they chose that video and what they gained from it.

If your students are tech-savvy and have access to a camera or smartphone, they might enjoy creating their own videos. (Two of our students created a fun 80’s-themed equestrian workout routine and almost filmed it with a straight face!)

If you have students who are strictly consumers, ask them what YouTubers they follow and what they like about them.

screenshot from video playlist on HorseSense Learning Levels YouTube channel
Screenshot from the Learning Levels video playlist

You might also scout out some equestrian influencers you think would be good role models and make recommendations. (If nothing else, knowing who Matt Harnacke is will win you 100 cool points with your teenage audience).

More YouTube: 'You be the judge'

Another useful feature of YouTube playlists is the ability to create unlisted videos, viewable only to those given the URL.

We use this feature to practice video evaluation and dressage test judging in a safe space, away from the eyes of the internet at large.

You could also invite students to participate in an in-house online horse show, or choose a selection of videos to critique as a group.

Want to have an inviting contest where your students get to judge YOU? If you have a video of you riding in a show and a copy of that ride’s written scoresheet, you can post the video along with a link to a blank scoresheet. Ask students to score the test with comments that explain their scoring. The student whose scoring comes the closest to your actual judged score wins a prize.

Lights, camera, action

Speaking of critiquing video, we are incredibly lucky to live in a time where we can walk around with cameras in our pocket. There are dozens of uses for cell phone photography in the arena – enough for a separate blog post (coming soon)!

We recommend frequently taking photos or short videos of students during lessons to share with students. They’ll have visible proof of their progress, and gain valuable opportunities to practice self-evaluation.

Bonus: every action photo they share becomes free marketing for you.

Want to inspire your students to practice and create community through photos and video?

Join us for the free #StayatHomeHorsemanship Challenge, a monthly series of challenges suitable for equestrians of all disciplines and levels.

Participants can share hashtagged videos or photos of their interpretation of the challenge and compete for year-end prizes.

Learn more HERE.

Zoom and other online meeting apps

Video classes and meetings have become a regular feature in our lives this year. While we’re wary of adding to screen fatigue in schoolchildren, there are some good uses for live video classrooms:

Because 2020 has been The Year We Stayed Home, there are several online meeting platforms available with free plans for small groups:

hoof picking safety Powerpoint slide
Powerpoint slide courtesy of Rhonda's private lesson program

A few commonsense precautions are required when you’re setting up an online meeting with students under the age of 13. It’s a good idea to get written consent from parents before allowing minors to join your online learning group. You might also want to share these tips to help parents safeguard their child’s privacy.

If your online meetings involve students under the age of 18, and are connected with any USEF-sanctioned event, you’ll also need to be aware of the USEF Safe Sport guidelines for online communication with minors.

Google Classroom

Want to take things one step further? You can set up an online classroom for your students using a platform such as Google Classroom. This allows you to create assignments or discussion topics, and attach files (such as HorseSense study guides) or video.

Learning Levels Online Classes are in the works

In 2021, we’ll be releasing several online courses on our HorseSense Riding Academy site that will help your students prepare for each Level of the Learning Levels curriculum.

Sign up for our Riding Academy newsletter to be the first to get updates.

HorseSense Riding Academy online course screenshot
Sneak peek: Red Level online lesson

Don't forget to keep online learning fun and interesting!

We all know that kids are getting a lot of online school these days, and we’d like their horsey education to feel like an enjoyable diversion rather than an additional mountain of work.

But we’re recognizing there are a lot of valuable ways to use technology to enhance our lesson programs.

We also realize our perspective is one of privilege: as horse-owning instructors, we have the ability to go put our hands on horses anytime we want. In 2020, many of our horse-crazy students have not been that fortunate.

If we can bring a little HorseSense to them, and make equine education as accessible as possible, we think that’s a good thing for everyone — in the best of times and in the worst of times!

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We have been blessed with many talented photographers over the years: students who voluntarily stood out in a sweltering/ freezing arena – or slogged up and down our hilly pastures – capturing lifelong memories of camps, clinics, and shows. We’re grateful to all of them!

One such student, Delaney Witbrod, is now a professional photographer with a gift for animal portraits – see more of her fine work here.

You’ll also find illustrations throughout our online courses and printed materials (like study guides) graciously donated by Rhonda Hagy, who is a student and lifelong friend. Contact us for information about her work.

Are we lucky or WHAT?!

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