Love is always in the air at a lesson barn. Your students love their horses, you love your horses AND your students, and hopefully everyone what loves what they do!
We’re big fans of adding holiday themes to lesson activities, and Valentine’s Day is no exception.
Adding a seasonal twist to familiar exercises can increase enjoyment and make your lesson memorable, whether your students are young or young-at-heart.
Here are a few of our February favorites:
Heart to heart
Set your arena with four barrels, bending poles or jump standards, placed an equal distance from each corner of the ring.
In the center of the arena, place a single ground pole OR a pair of cones set 6’ apart on either side of X.
Students must ride a flowing pattern around each barrel and back to the center, crossing the ground pole or passing through the cones before riding to the next barrel.
This sequence of half-circles forms two large, mirrored hearts. Ride it on wet footing for maximum effect!
Two of hearts
A similar exercise involves two riders who ride a heart-shaped pas de deux, separating at the ends of the arena and rejoining at X.
You can include all of the variations from the Heart to Heart exercise, plus a few that are drillwork specific, such as alternating between riding two abreast and single file through X.
Riding perfectly synchronized half-hearts is harder than it sounds and should be practiced extensively at the walk before picking up the pace. As always when practicing mounted drillwork, keep equine personalities in mind, and leave a large space bubble around horses that can’t play nicely with others.
A sweet treat
Award candy hearts as “points” during other riding lesson activities.
You’ll need a big bag of Sweethearts Candies® (also known as conversation candies), paper cups, and a marker to write the name of a student on each cup.
Tip: Weight the cups if you’ll be filling them in a windy outdoor arena — or substitute heavier plastic cups!
Points can be awarded for many things, including but not limited to:
Continue the theme with large hearts cut out of pastel paper that can be hung on a barn wall or door. Ask students to write equine versions of the candy conversation hearts — you’re sure to have some hilarious results!
Look through the Learning Level lesson plans for more ideas using point systems.
Poles with heart
Build a pole formation in the center of your arena, using 8-10 jump poles or wooden landscape timbers.
Measure between poles carefully; the distances suggested in the diagram are fairly adaptable for the average lesson horse, but can be modified to suit individual horses or ponies.
Like many pole layouts, this one is full of possibilities:
Ask your students to identify all the possible ways THEY see to ride the heart. They may just come up with something you haven’t spotted!
Roses are red
Stock up on red silk roses at your local dollar store — we recommend buying at least a dozen.
The roses can be used as relay batons during group lessons; hidden around the arena or trail; or awarded as points just like the candy hearts.
Who can be the first to complete their bouquet?
On a rainy day, award the roses for completion of unmounted tasks. These can be pulled straight from the HorseSense Levels objectives.
For example, Green Level students can earn roses for fitting a halter, weighing a horse with a weight tape, applying a stable bandage, administering an applesauce “dewormer,” etc.
If you have lots of roses, award bonus roses for students successfully demonstrating a barn skill at a higher Level. Let students trade in their bouquets in at the end of the lesson for a chocolate kiss and a treat for their favorite school horse.
Ask not what your horse can do for you, but what you can do for your horse
How often do your students practice putting the horse’s enjoyment before their own? Do they know what horses like to do on their own time?
Give your lesson horses a treat by devoting an entire lesson to this practice. Students can spend undemanding time with the horses, just hanging out and letting the horses choose to interact — or not.
Or they can spend a lesson hour on a leisurely grooming, working on identifying each horse’s personal preferences and helping them enjoy the experience as much as possible.
One of our favorite unmounted lessons is to ask student to create an enrichment activity for their horse. This might involve constructing a new toy, making additions to the horse’s natural habitat, or setting up a series of puzzle feeders in a mini obstacle course.
This is a great thing to do on a cold or rainy day! You can read more about how we incorporate this activity into a lesson in the first set of Pink Level lesson plans — coming soon! — or get started with this #FridayHorseFun post.
For a treasure trove of ideas, visit EnrichingEquines.com
Kiss and tell
Outside of lessons, set up a pony kissing booth or Valentine’s themed portrait session.
This can double as extra revenue AND as a marketing strategy, since your students’ social media feeds will be full of cute, festive photos.
Alternatively, take a photo of each student snuggling with their horse and create a collage to share online or through your program’s newsletter.
Don’t forget to share some fun facts with your students about the equine heart, such as its impressive weight or the extra “hearts” that live in the hooves.
Love it or hate it, Valentine’s Day can be a good opportunity to celebrate the bond between horse and human
Have fun with your festivities, and make sure students AND horses feel extra loved!