Unmounted Lessons Your Students Will Love

Our student-approved activities for group and private barn lessons can be found in the HorseSense Teaching Guides... these lessons can all be taught indoors or outdoors, without school horse participation, making them compatible with rainy days and unmounted camp sessions.

When it comes to horses, education out of the saddle matters just as much, if not more, than time spent in the arena.

The secret to a successful unmounted lesson program lies in getting your students invested in a progressive, motivational system of study — and preparing activities that are as FUN as they are informational.

If you’re not familiar with our unmounted HorseSense curriculum, start with our original English-riding version HERE or the new Western version HEREBoth versions are free to download.

Unmounted lessons increase revenue, reduce scheduling hassles, and create well-rounded, responsible caretakers

But we don’t have to explain this to you!

In fact, “unmounted lesson plans” remain the number one search in our website analytics. If that’s how you found your way here, welcome! You’re our kind of people.

If barn lessons are a new addition to your program, or something you’re considering for the new year, you might need to use a few incentives to get students excited about unmounted learning. You can see some of the strategies we’ve used in this Boss Mares blog post:  Back to the Barn

Once everyone’s on board, get excited yourself about the flexible opportunities you can create when you aren’t limited by school horse availability.

Barn lessons can work for you in several different ways:

colorful embrella graphic

Get more ideas for rainy day lesson protocols in this post: Rainy Day Unmounted Lessons.

How you incorporate barn lessons into your schedule will affect how you structure the lessons themselves — as will your facility and your available resources

just keep learning

Consider the space you have available: barn aisle, office, feed/tack room? Is there an area where you could create a small classroom?

Can you interact with horses safely during inclement weather, or during stable management routines?

Your teaching strategy may also vary depending on the age and experience level of your students. Very young or attention-deficit children need short, action-packed lessons with plenty of games and dramatic storytelling.

Older, more advanced students may appreciate more of a deep dive into unmounted topics, learning the “whys” as well as the “hows.”

Even if you can’t make unmounted lessons a priority in your program, you can practice what we call “sneaky HorseSense” by devoting a few minutes of every mounted lesson to discussion of a relevant topic.

Heading into Thanksgiving break? Discuss equine digestion and how big feasts are definitely NOT on a horse’s menu. Students watching the Kentucky Derby, or learning to ride in a galloping position? Discuss Thoroughbred conformation, stride length or relative speeds of different horse breeds.

No matter how you set up your barn lesson program, it’s always a good idea to do some long-range lesson planning with your students’ goals in mind. Do they intend to own or lease a horse someday? Travel off-property to shows? Do any of your students plan to pursue horse training, competitive riding or veterinary medicine?

Our HorseSense curriculum is designed to create well-rounded equestrians who can work comfortably in most barns — but we always try to make room for your barn’s individual interests.

Planning is the key to creating hands-on, memorable lessons that will keep your students coming back for more!

Our student-approved activities for group and private barn lessons can be found in the HorseSense Teaching Guides.

As of this writing, there are over 180 pages of unmounted lesson ideas in the Resource Center — and lots more on the way!

You can filter your search by “HorseSense” and select “Lesson plans” under Resource Type to see all of the current Teaching Guides, and further filter by “Topic”.

 Don’t see a Teaching Guide for a specific topic? It’s probably on our list to be published in 2022. Subscribe to our e-newsletter to be notified when we upload new lesson plans!

sample page from HorseSense Teaching Guide - What's For Dinner?

Here are a few of our favorite flexible unmounted lessons to get you started:

These lessons can all be taught indoors or outdoors, without school horse participation, making them compatible with rainy days and unmounted camp sessions.

#1 - Red Level - Ground Handling

Just as when learning to approach and halter a horse, it is best for students to practice leading techniques without the equine variable first.

Horse-free leading exercises can be combined with a lesson on catching, with the student acting as the “horse.” Once the “horse” is haltered, students can practice asking for walk and halt transitions, turning to the inside and outside, and managing the lead rope.

unmounted lesson with one young student buckling halter around second student role-playing a horse

Expand the lesson by setting up a small “in hand” obstacle course and having students lead each other through each task.

Challenge more experienced students by blindfolding their “horse,” which requires them to develop a clear system of pressure and release.

When time and weather allows, students can follow up these exercises by practicing with a live horse. If space is tight, use just one horse and set up a relay for your group lessons, passing the patient horse from one student to another.

Read more: Teaching Guide – Red Level – Leader Lessons

#2 - Yellow Level - Horse ID
equine height and weight tape

Use an equine measuring tape to measure absolutely everything – or, if your students are handy with math, use a regular measuring tape and calculate height in hands.

Have students measure each other (are they small, medium or large ponies?), barn gates, or the furniture in your office before trying the tape out on actual horses.

They can write down their findings to practice correct notation. Remind them frequently that the “points” in hands are not referring to actual decimals, and that “.3” is as high as they can go!

Many students are familiar with being measured against a doorframe or wall. Place strips of tape on the barn wall to indicate height in hands, starting at 10hh and working your way up to 20hh. A star sticker can mark 14.2hh – the cutoff height for ponies.

Bonus points if you can do this in the barn bathroom, where students and parents will see the measurements frequently! For added wow factor, ask students to look up the tallest and smallest horse on record and compare to your chart.

Read more: Teaching Guide – Yellow Level – Breed Basics

#3 - Green Level - CONDITIONING

Considering a horse’s fitness requires thinking about the horse’s perspective — and remembering that horses often suffer silently. Whenever possible, use interactive exercises to give students a taste of what it’s like to be a horse.

A few you might try:

student jumping in arena holding hobbyhorse
#4 Teal Level - Gaits and Movement

A show judge might not have the luxury of instant replay — but you can use it to help your students gain valuable evaluation experience.

Create a collection of dressage test videos that can be shared online and used during lessons. These tests should be current, unedited and filmed clearly from C.

You may wish to ride several different tests in front of the camera, compile videos from previous competitions, or ask for students to volunteer footage.

back view of two instructors judgin student's dressage test

We recommend saving videos to a folder on your hard drive as well as uploading as an unlisted playlist on YouTube or similar hosting site.

It goes without saying that you should always have permission from riders/parents before sharing videos for critique purposes, even if the videos are not posted publicly!

Put your playlist to work in several different ways:

NOTE: These lesson ideas are from an upcoming Teal Level Teaching Guide, You Be the Judge, which we’ll be publishing on the first of December!

Are there specific barn lesson topics or resources you’d like to see?

Let us know, and stay tuned: we’ve got some big secret projects on the horizon that are related to unmounted lessons. We’ll spill the beans via newsletter and social media in 2022!

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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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