Dressage Letter Spelling Game

The game described below was introduced to me by a fellow coach (instructor) Rekha S. from Australia (check out her program Eq Cetera Inc.)! She incorporated this game into a lesson she submitted during an Intensive Instructor Development Course that I hosted online. This was such a fun and unique game that I have honestly not seen before….so I reached out and asked if I could share her great idea with you all!

Rekha gave the following tips for incorporating letters into your lesson plan.

  1. This is a game she commonly uses for older kids, adults, and higher functioning individuals who understand letters, spelling, etc.
  2. You can use the standard dressage letters set up around the arena OR you can put any letter on a cone and set them around the arena (this second option would give you more words to spell!)
  3. If you are placing your own cones, try to place them in a way where there has to be a change of rein in between letters when spelling out a word.
  4. Difficulty can be increased by asking them to trot any time they use a certain letter (like E)
  5. You can place a barrel in the center of the arena with letters on them (written on cups, on card stock, etc) and the rider has to select a letter from the barrel, ride to that letter, then return to the barrel for the next letter.

The diagram to the right is a traditional layout for dressage letters in a small ‘court’ or arena (if you have a larger arena you could use the full court letter setup that has even more letters!).

The letters could be attached to your arena wall/fence or on cones (Make your own with cones and letter stickers ) or get a pre-made set). Several barns already have dressage letters set up in the arena so this is a super easy game to incorporate that may have no extra setup!

If you want to provide more word options, set up the letters G, X, and D on cones OR have a volunteer ‘be’ one of those letters by holding a piece of paper that has the letter!

Depending on the age and ability of your rider, you may be able to play this game by just having them look at the letters in the arena while they are riding.

However, if a rider does not have good vision or if they tend to do better ‘seeing’ things on paper first, you may want to provide a printout of the arena that shows the dressage letters.

How to play the SPELLING version of this game:

Easy version:

Give the rider a word to spell either verbally or written on a paper/index card.

The rider must then ‘spell’ the word by riding to the first letter and halt (or raise a hand…whatever you want to ‘mark’ a letter), riding to the second letter and halting, etc.

Example in Blue: Rider spells out H-A-M

Advanced version:

Ask the rider to use the letters in the arena to spell a word.

You and/or the volunteer team must then try and guess the word the rider spelled with their horse.

Example in orange: Rider spells B-E-D

How to play the ALPHABETIZATION version of this game

Explain what alphabetization means to your students (or ask them to explain it to you).

Depending on the ability of your rider, you could ask them to ride to the arena letters in alphabetical order with or without providing them a printout of the alphabet.

See the diagram to the right for an example of how the student may ride to the letters in alphabetical order.

Sample riding skills to reinforce during this game:

Looking ahead- Reinforce looking ahead by having the student focus on the letter they are riding towards. Ask them why they think this is important and what other times they may use ‘looking ahead’ in their regular riding.

Walk-Halt-Walk transitions (or walk-trot-walk): Reinforce proper use of verbal cues, natural aids, reins, and body position during the upward and downward transitions at the letters. Transitions are a great time to incorporate what a student should do, how they should do it, and why it’s important. (don’t want to talk too much? Ask your student to tell YOU different what, hows, whys in the transitions!)

Straight lines on and off the rail– I always joke that straight lines and circles are two of the hardest things to ride and teach. Reinforce your student guiding their horse in a straight line from letter to letter…even when they are not riding by the arena rail! Be sure to give them specific instructions on how and what to use to maintain a straight line. And remember that ‘how’ we do things is the task analysis, or the step by step breakdown, of a task or skill.

Have fun playing! Do you have a photo or video of you or your students playing the Dressage Letter Spelling game? Tag us on facebook or instagram using @hooffallsandfootfalls and #hooffallsandfootfalls

5 thoughts on “Dressage Letter Spelling Game”

  1. This worked so well using the dressage BE plus an extra D on a cone plus HAM, that I bought from Walmart online a complete alphabet of large black letters 5X5″ which is only 2″ short of the standard dressage letters. This gave rise to a whole new reading program for my student who has now after 3 weeks of this graduated from 3 letter words to 5 letter words and got a lot of practice maneuvering her pony in both directions around the arena including “over” and “around” and in “between” (prepositions) ground poles.
    Having the whole alphabet opens up a brave new world for arena design on the rail sequences ( letters attached with masking tape) in both directions depending on the word. The trick was to avoid switch backs which could be too much to process for this student so tried to align the sequence by direction also allowing enough distance between the letters for a calculated halt that was not too sudden. I used mostly the top rails to keep the letters visible from a distance since they are slightly smaller than the 7 ” high dressage letter. It helps to have two of each letter when you need for example two g’s for egg or an extra g out there for a frog starting at dressage letter F. The backings are not too thins but the are flexible for taping the letters to cones or barrels as well. If you r student is almost non verbal it helps to download and image of the word you want the student to spell and first identify the picture, then talk about how the work is spelled, show a card with the word on it and then have the student teach the pony how to spell the word by stopping at each of the letters reviewing at the last stop, what word was spelled. I also added on the mounting block the word “first” and on the mailbox the word, “last.”

  2. Fun! Great prep for the traditional use of the arena markers. We made a sentence to help remember the letters. “All Kind Equibloom (our training method) Horses Call Me Best Friend”. More positive than what I was taught so many years ago, ” All King Edward’s Horses Call Me Blamed Fool”.

  3. Thank you, I will try this but help my severely delayed ( non verbal and unable to write but able to read at a 1st grade level) rider by placing the colored cones next to the letters for Ham and Bed. I am hoping that the simple version will help me to let her off the lead line once she knows the route.

  4. I do something similar to this already. I use them as guides to halt, trot between the letters, when to pick up different gaits, and make circle. I also use them to make the children use the whole ring,

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