Rainy Day Unmounted Lessons

There’s a lot more to horses than looking good on their backs... even the Horsemanship Levels have unmounted objectives covering essential ground skills and riding theory, and rainy day lessons can help students progress to the next Level.

You know those winter downpours that leave everyone soaked, mud-spattered and miserable? Those pop-up summer thunderstorms that come out of nowhere, throwing lightning at your mounted lessons?

The days you walk into your arena and slide sideways six inches, or hear the telltale crunch of footing frozen solid?

In an ideal world, we’d all retreat to our climate-controlled indoor arenas. But if you don’t have an indoor —and we have never been so fortunate — inclement weather can be bad for business. Unless, of course, you have a rainy day plan!

Owning and caring for  horses is an all-weather activity. We still have to feed our horses and pay for their hay when the winter winds start howling. We want our students to appreciate this — but we also want them to look forward to their horse time no matter what.

This means teaching lots of flexible unmounted lessons that your students find relevant, interesting and FUN!

Your rainy day toolbox will need to be customized to the goals of your clients and your answers to these three questions:

Once you have a clear picture of your logistics, start a notebook or binder of lesson plans and ideas.

You may also want to assemble some props and teaching materials in portable plastic tubs.

We use a lesson-in-a-box system that provides “grab and go” unmounted lessons: we keep printed worksheets and games, Stuff Happens cards, Level Up question sets and flashcards, and hands-on materials such as braiding bands, farrier tools, or mini-bags of horse feed in storage boxes organized and labeled by topic.

Once you have a clear picture of your logistics, start a notebook or binder of lesson plans and ideas.

Make sure your rainy day lesson program achieves these five essential goals:

Goal #1- It should make unmounted HorseSense lessons fun and engaging

These lessons can take a bit more preparation and creativity to teach successfully — nobody wants to hear you lecture about equine parasites for an hour.

Unmounted lessons should include hands-on practice and review along with plenty of visuals and demonstration. Incorporate games and challenges whenever possible, especially for young children!

We have a lot of strategies for teaching HorseSense lessons that students genuinely enjoy – so much that we’re creating a roundup of our favorite games in our LLPro post this month! Stay tuned for next week’s blog, and be sure to follow our Instagram and Facebook accounts where we’ll share some highlights.

Goal #2: It should help parents and students see the value of unmounted education

There’s a lot more to horses than looking good on their backs – but sometimes helping new students appreciate this can be a bit of a project.

We explain that even the Horsemanship Levels have unmounted objectives covering essential ground skills and riding theory, and that rainy day lessons can help students progress to the next Level.

It helps to build incentives and community into your unmounted programming. Check out our to How to Build a Barn Family blog post for more ideas.

Goal #3: It should relate to the horsemanship skills our students are learning in the saddle

There are usually a few parents and students out there that “only want to ride,” or don’t believe they should pay full price for a lesson based around “barn chores.”

You may not share their viewpoint, but you can meet in the middle by teaching unmounted lessons designed to improve their riding.

Aspiring jumpers can practice walking distances and set miniature grids for Breyer horses.

Students can design conditioning programs for horse and rider and practice off-the-horse exercises tailored to their own strengths and weaknesses.

Teach the biomechanics of correct equitation and equine movement through video and simulations, and practice positioning for lateral maneuvers using pool noodle ponies.

Our hobbyhorses get a workout teaching on-foot dressage tests, course design, and canter leads – especially on a frozen winter day when the movement keeps everyone warm!

Goal #4: It should be communicated as clearly as possible

We can’t emphasize this enough: we have our inclement weather policy printed on every newsletter, info packet, web page and barn wall, and inevitably the phone still starts ringing as soon as the raindrops fall.

If you aren’t careful, you’ll find you have a new part-time job as a meteorologist… and you definitely aren’t getting paid well enough for your predictions!

We recommend outlining exactly what will happen if the weather goes south during a lesson appointment:

Personally, we’ve never offered a discount for unmounted programming taught in place of a mounted lesson; we put just as much time and effort into off-the-horse lessons (if not more!) and we make sure students get their money’s worth.

We’re also clear that if we’re still teaching and a student chooses not to come due to inclement weather, no refund is offered on monthly tuition.

If, however, we decide to cancel – usually because of extreme flooding or storms – we’ll offer rollover credit or a makeup lesson whenever possible.

Goal #5: It should encourage flexibility and perseverance

When it’s thirty-five degrees and raining, or a hundred degrees in the shade, nobody wants to be outdoors. We get it, and we try to also consider our horse’s perspective – they’re not exactly thrilled to work in inclement weather, either!

But if all we’re dealing with is a summer shower, or some sloppy footing? It might be a good opportunity to practice cheerfully riding through tough conditions.

If we waited for perfect weather, we’d never get anything done, and we want our students to learn how to adapt, not make excuses. (This is particularly true for aspiring show team members – in our experience, the show must go on, rain or shine!)

Teach your students how to dress for rain, wind, heat and cold – and how to keep on working with a smile on your face.

See our list of favorite slow-paced lessons in this Boss Mares blog 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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