Jump the wall…don’t hit it

Have you ever felt like you are just not making any progress with a certain student?  Do you feel like you just giving a glorified pony ride? Even possibly feeling like you are failing some of your students as an adaptive riding instructor? I mean really….how many ways are you expected to know how to creatively teach the ‘basic of basic’ riding skills like transitions, posture, and reining?????

You are not alone!!!! 

We have all felt like we have ‘hit the wall‘ with a student(s) at some point during our instructing career….in BOTH able bodied and adaptive riding!

FYI…this topic was requested by SEVERAL instructors because they have all felt like they have hit the wall with some of their students….below are version of things I have heard in person or email from real, live instructors in our industry:

 “What do you do if your student is so physically or cognitively involved that you keep your lessons fresh and worthwhile?” 

“Sometimes I feel like I just am not doing a good enough job teaching a riding skill” 

“I feel like I’m just going in circles with the student and don’t know what to do!”

“I feel like I’m just giving a glorified pony ride to some of my students and not teaching riding skills….where do I go from here”

“I’m seeing little to no ‘measurable’ progress, am I doing something wrong as an instructor?”

Again…..I want to say that you are not alone if you have, or are currently, feeling this way with one or more of your students. 

Below are a few suggestions on how you can jump the wall…not hit it

Some ways to ‘jump the wall’

Advocate for yourself and talk it through

Talk to other coworkers or instructors and see if they have any ideas on how you can 

Photo courtesy Horses Help
Photo courtesy Horses Help

change up your lessons. If you are not creative then go seek out someone who is creative. If you are not the strongest at incorporating patterns to reinforce riding skills, then go find someone who is. Contact another instructor in a different state or region (this is why I love going to PATH Intl. Regional Conferences…to network!) Sometimes just talking to someone else can help you work through the points you are stuck on. Heck…even talk to your non-horsey significant other or friend! My husband has given me some really good ideas and input on things that I was not seeing because I was too close to the issue and thinking too horsey.

Resource another instructor

Ask if you could possibly have that student move to another instructor for a while to give yourself a break to recharge. A change in instructors is not only beneficial for the instructor but can also be beneficial for the student as well! Sometimes taking a break and then coming back with fresh eyes can give you an entirely new perspective and new ideas with that same student. Don’t be hard on yourself if suddenly the new instructor for your student makes huge gains. It is healthy to evaluate and see what methods they used to achieve those gains to see if there are areas you could improve or new things to add to your toolbox….but the sudden progress could literally just be the ‘change of scenery’ to a new instructor, day, and/or volunteer team. I fully recognize that some of you may not have the luxury of resourcing another instructor so this may not be the perfect solution for you depending on the situation. 

Talk to the families and find out why the student is involved in adaptive riding.

Find out what their goals are (goals change from the initial intake date so it is good to routinely touch base). Their end goal may not be ‘riding independent’….it could be just that their child ‘enjoys riding’. They may notice that their child sleeps better the days after a lesson, they are less anxious, or they look forward to their ‘horse day’. True….you have to keep your end goal fixed on riding skills such as good posture, balance, reining, cuing the horse, etc. and not cross the line to therapy.…but perhaps a more toned down version of a ride that consistently works on the basics is ‘enough’ for that rider. Not to mention that hearing the awesome ways that riding can impact a student’s life is encouraging.

Personal experience side story: It is AMAZING what you find out from families when you take the time to talk to them. Last month we started a new kiddo that is one of those riders that an instructor will eventually feel like they have ‘hit the wall with’ because the progress we see in riding skills is very minimal….but the cool thing is that I heard directly from mom that doing adaptive riding has helped him potty train more easily because he was able to use his core to stand up straight and go potty AND he eats his full meals now when he previously had a very poor appetite. Mom knew for sure that it was the riding that had these beneficial effect because over the winter break he regressed some and riding was the only thing ‘missing’ from his routine. Another family just told me that their daughter has struggled for years with chronic, debilitating kidney stones and that she is usually down for at least a week while she passes one and as she recovers. Since she has started riding, the time it takes to pass and recover has significantly decreased and she is missing less school. Like the first student mentioned, again the only thing that has changed in her routine has been adding in adaptive riding. 

(I want to make a note here that the progress and benefits beyond riding skills that impact a student’s everyday life are NOT my ultimate goal as an adaptive riding instructor as I am not trying to provide therapy. The amazing therapeutic side effects are thanks to the magic of the horse and what can happen from participating in adaptive riding and focusing on a riding skills no matter how basic)

Think outside the box during your lessons! 

Incorporate games into your lessons so you can break up working on a riding skill like sitting tall, asking for a transition, or reining between stations. Don’t forget to relate the game back to one or more riding skill though! 

Think about unique ways you can work towards a riding skill (like hi-fiving for steering to progress to reining). Break the skill down by doing task analysis (this term should sound very familiar if you sat through a PATH Intl. Instructor Workshop!) and start at the very beginning of the movement to see if you can figure out a gross motor skill  movement (usually easier) you can work on that you can then refine a more fine motor skill moment (more difficult) that gets closer and closer to your end skill.

What if the rider has regressed and/or the family has changed their goals to ‘therapy’ goals

If the family has changed what they want their child to gain from an equine activity from something recreational to something therapy, then refer out if possible. Refer rider to a PT, OT or Speech therapist certified to provide hippotherapy. If this is not an option for whatever reason or you want to try something else before discharging them to a hippotherapy program, you could collaborate with a local therapist trained by the American Hippotherapy Association to see if they can help you jump the wall and further adapt how you teach, what equipment you use, how you incorporate volunteers, etc. If you do decide to collaborate , don’t take that information and cross the line into therapy. Use that as building blocks to further your adaptive toolbox.

The ‘same old skill’ to you may be a ‘new skill’ to your student

Don’t forget that sometimes each ride may seem novel to our students and they may enjoy learning the same skill each week because it is, in a way, still new to them. I would still encourage you to discover multiple unique and fun ways to teach the riding skills because you never know what may ‘click’ with your rider.

Photo Courtesy Horses Help
Photo Courtesy Horses Help

Resource your volunteers!

Do you have some really fun, outgoing volunteers that are not afraid to be silly, sing fun songs, make up funny rhymes, etc? Try putting them with the rider you feel ‘stuck’ with and they may be that missing piece you have been waiting for. I will totally admit I am not the most creative and I can’t carry a tune to save my life….so I rely on my volunteers to provide that type of entertainment for my riders that like that type of engagement. Pay close attention to your riders the first time you try the pairing as some riders may not like the extra energy and may feel overwhelmed. Again, this is just one strategy but not the ultimate answer.

Do you have any suggestions on how to “jump the wall” and not hit the wall? I would love to hear from you if you do!


Written by Saebra Pipoly. Learn more about the author by clicking here.

Send Saebra an email at saebra.p@hooffallsandfootfalls.comsubscribe to the Hoof Falls & Footfalls newsletter, follow on instagram, and subscribe to the YouTube channel!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *