Unmounted Lessons Your Students Will Love

...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.

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:

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

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.

Just Keep Learning

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 you can always make room in your lesson plans 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 favorite activities for group and private barn lessons can be found organized by Level in the HorseSense Teaching Guides.

You can filter your Resource Center search by “HorseSense” and select “Lesson plans” under Resource Type to see all of the Teaching Guides. Filter your search by “Topic” as well if you are teaching a lesson on a specific subject.

You can also get our master compilation of unmounted lessons, with close to 300 pages of  activities for all ages and experience levels. (We’ll tell you more about THE BIG BOOK OF BARN LESSONS at the end of this post!)

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 Lessons Teaching Guide Red
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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.

#2 - Yellow Level - Horse ID

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.

equine height and weight tape

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.

#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:

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

Let us know, and be sure to follow us on Facebook or Instagram. You can find many posts about unmounted activities by searching for the hashtag #unmountedmonday!

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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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