Sometimes it can feel like every lesson is the same as the last, or maybe it feels like your students aren’t as engaged as they should be. Adding some fun riding lesson ideas for warm ups, cooldowns, and lesson plans can go a long way for both you and your riding students, while still improving their skills.
Whether you are looking for new ways to challenge your students or just want a change from going in circles around the arena every day, there are countless ways to change up the lesson plan and help students have a blast safely learning an enjoyable hobby.
In this post, you’ll learn six fun ideas for riding lessons that can easily be integrated into a regular part of your lessons to make them fun and educational at the same time.
Instead of drilling the same exercises over and over again, finding different methods to accomplish the same skill-building can add a lot of fun to lessons. This can be done in many ways and is only limited by your creativity. Ground poles, cones, and barrels are some of the go-to obstacles that can be built on in endless ways.
Setting up a barrel pattern is a fun riding lesson idea for students to practice direction changes, as well as keeping their horse on the bend and not dropping the inside shoulder while going around small circles at any gait and speed. Orange traffic cones provide excellent markers for patterns, and can also be used for steering exercises. Riding over ground poles is a common precursor to jumping, but it can be beneficial to non-jumpers as well. Combining these objects and more, you can create an obstacle course for any level of horse and rider.
Students can learn to open and close gates while mounted, back through a “chute” made of ground poles, weave through a line of cones, and ride over tarps, among countless other possibilities. Adding these obstacles to a lesson makes for a fun change of pace while also teaching the students how to introduce new objects to their horse. It will help build their confidence when they encounter something new that might be scary to a horse.
Create a Challenge
Challenging your students to ride in new ways will set them up for success and improve their confidence. One excellent challenge for riders is to ride without stirrups. Setting aside part of the lesson – or all of it if they are up for it – is a really good way of accomplishing this. It is hard at first, but their balance will improve immensely with practice.
Taking time to practice this in a lesson will prepare them for situations if they lose their stirrups, and they will know they do not need to panic. This is also an excellent way to lead up to doing a bareback lesson, which always adds a lot of fun. Riding with very loose or no contact on the reins is another great challenge that will teach students how to use their legs more for steering and rely less on their reins.
Ride on a Lunge Line
Lunging is a great way for riders to work on their balance without having to worry about steering the horse themselves. As the rider gets more comfortable, the difficulty level can be increased to include objectives such as touching various parts of their body, or reachable parts of the horse while the horse is moving. This will help to improve their balance, as well as their confidence in the saddle.
Many games can be adapted to being played on horseback, and it is a fun way to get riders out of their heads while also improving their skills. Red Light Green Light is really good for working on transitions between gaits and halts. The simplest version of this would be to make “Red Light” mean halt and “green light” mean walk. For more experienced riders, a “green light” can mean either a faster gait, or a faster rate of speed of a particular gait, and a “yellow light” can be incorporated to mean a slower gait or rate of speed.
Simon Says is another great lesson game. It requires the riders to be closely listening to the instructor’s directions (and whether or not “Simon” says to do them), and the horses to be listening to the riders. It also has the benefit of being easily adaptable to fit any level of horse and rider. You can start with simple gait changes and move up to more complex combinations (one-handed, two-point with no stirrups at the canter, for example).
If you are teaching a group lesson, adding some drill team practice is a fun way to get everyone working on their timing and transitions. There are numerous drill team patterns available online, or you can create your own. It is a great way to practice riding in a group and will encourage your students to work together.
If you are looking for something to get your riders out of the arena and out of their heads, a trail ride is always a great option. Riders and horses both benefit from the change of scenery, and they get to practice riding away from home and encountering new situations. Riding through nature tends to have a relaxing effect on the riders and the horses, and is a wonderful way to boost morale while keeping everyone feeling refreshed.
If a trail ride isn’t an option for you, conducting a lesson in a large, open pasture can also offer a nice change of pace. It is a good way to build up to trail rides if a particular rider or horse is not yet comfortable outside of the arena, and also provides an opportunity to practice riding in an open space.
Not all lessons need to happen in the saddle. The most important part of riding horses starts with the care they get on the ground, so taking some time to teach proper grooming techniques and horse care goes a long way, particularly for novice students.
Teaching them how to read a horse’s body language and how to safely handle a horse will provide them with a foundation to build on. Even more experienced riders can benefit from focusing on ground care. Taking the time to bathe their horse, thoroughly groom them, and hand grazing as a “spa day treat” are all great ways to build a bond with their horse.
Helmet Safety Day
Ok, when I say “helmet safety” you probably don’t think of shrieking giggles and exclamations of how fun the lesson was, but teaching about riding safety doesn’t have to be boring (or scary!)- there are ideas for teaching this concept that are interesting and- dare I say it- fun.
Both kids and adults learn best through hands-on learning- it’s why we teach riding lessons IN the saddle instead of a classroom! One of the best exercises I’ve ever seen done in a horse stable was a boarding barn that kept a collection of helmets that had been, as recommended, discarded after falls. With harnesses cut to prevent reuse, they were kept in a box in the back of the tack room until an annual event: using clamps and a saw, the helmets were “dissected” to reveal their internal condition. Participants learned, through seeing evidence of impact, just how helmets work and why they matter.
To make this exercise more fun and horse-interactive, it could be paired with a mounted riding lesson focusing on teaching emergency dismounts- a lesson that the United States Pony Club provides a free riding lesson plan for teaching.
Experiment with these games and activities to find what works best for you and your students. Collecting feedback from your students to see what they like best or if they have any ideas for improvements will go a long way to keeping lessons fresh and fun. Feel free to get creative and make up your own games, or new variations of old favorites. The possibilities really are endless.