Levels of Task Analysis

If you are an instructor you have probably heard this term. Task analysis is a key block of the foundation that makes up a solid instructors. A lot of people know ‘what’ task analysis is…but actually implementing it and the ‘how’ of task analysis can sometimes seem illusive.

What is task analysis? Task analysis is taking a skill and breaking it down it to smaller, more manageable steps (1). Task analysis is a key component of teaching both able bodied and adaptive riding.

Why I want to do a task analysis…on task analysis!

One of the reasons I want to talk more about task analysis is because, in the ten years I have been either a host site representative (the center hosting a workshop), a faculty apprentice, or faculty/evaulator for the PATH Intl. Registered Instructor Workshop, I have noticed that the ‘task analysis’ section is often one of the lower rated sections. Why? Why is this component conically low rated? I know it is not due to the lack of quality of the workshop or poor instructing skills of the faculty (the PATH Intl. Workshop is packed full of information and the Faculty are well trained) First, there is a lot of material to fit into just two and a half days of workshop and you can only cover so much. Second, task analysis is something that takes practice and more than just an hour segment in a workshop you attend once to grasp. Third, task analysis is something that should be practiced during supervised teaching hours and instructors should not just rely on the workshop to give them all the information about task analysis that they need. (but do mentoring instructors know how to teach and/or put enough emphasis task analysis?)

The other reason I want to talk about task analysis in this post is because although I get a nod or a ‘yes’ when I ask instructors in training or certified instructors if they know what task analysis is…but then when they are asked to demonstrate task analysis during teaching they stumble.

This post is an attempt to put down into words a more detailed explanation of task analysis as it applies to traditional or adaptive riding instructors.

Levels of Task Analysis

I have recently started breaking down task analysis into three levels because the general term is sometimes too broad when talking about the different ways it can be applied when teaching a riding skill (or horsemanship skill for that matter). Instructors usually do fairly well when applying task analysis to typical rider when they explain the skill in a ‘typical’ way (once they grasp the general idea of how to do task analysis) 

What happens if your go to task analysis is still too complex for a rider?

What happens if your go to task analysis is now to simple for a rider and they are ready to progress within that same skill?

This is where instructors in training, or even seasoned instructors usually start to struggle. This is where the levels come into play.

Base Level Task Analysis (TA)– This level is your go to breakdown of a skill to get you and your student started. Each step of the Base Level TA may also be the way you reinforce the skill when you are giving specific praise or specific corrective feedback.

Super Fundamental TA– This level is a step below Base Level and breaks the steps down even further to the fundamental movements that start the skill…the movements that you and I usually take for granted and that our students often innately do. And when I mean a step below I mean the even smaller pieces that go into a task. Even though the Super Fundamental TA is a ‘step below’ your Base Level it is not easier. It is often more difficult! The Super Fundamental TA is crucial when working with riders who have disabilities, especially those that are lower functioning and may have limited physical and cognitive ability. When Super Fundamental TA is left out, an instructor may feel like there is ‘nothing to teach’. Super Fundamental TA is also a go to when your rider is progressing but there is a hole ‘somewhere’ and you need to take a deeper look beyond your go to Base Level TA to see what you need to patch in your student.

Advanced Level TA– This level is a step above Base Level TA and is put into play when a rider needs to progress within a skill. Often, Advanced Level TA pulls in other skills that are needed to progress the current skill that is being worked on. 

Task Analysis using the three levels is crystal clear now, right? Probably not! Let’ts take a look at at common riding skill to see if I can clear up the mud I just made throwing levels into task analysis.

Applying the Levels

Sample Skill: Turning the horse to the right

Base Level TA: 

1) Look right towards the red cone in the corner

2) Keep your left hand sill and in neutral while you gently pull your right hand back until your horse starts to turn

3) As you are turning stay sitting tall over your horse’s back. You do not need to lean to turn your horse.

4) Once your horse has turned to the right, put your right hand back back in neutral with your left hand.

Note: Each person will take the Base Level TA and have their own unique way that they implement the pieces. You may see a rider lean forward, lean back, lean to the inside, have both hands pull to the right, etc…..and you have to adjust and give specific corrections from there. However, the Base Level TA is usually the same the first time you explain something to a rider.

Super Fundamental TA:

  1. Stretch helmet to the sky
  2. Tighten tummy muscles
  3. Sit even on both seat bones
  4. Shoulders stay over hips
  5. Look at the red cone in the corner
  6. Shoulders stay over hips
  7. Left hand stays still during the whole turn
  8. Cue horse for a right turn 
  9. Stop cuing horse for right turn
  10. Hands come back together in neutral

Any of these Super Fundamental TA steps may have to be wrapped into your Base level TA depending on what your rider is struggling with and what they are physically and cognitively capable of doing. Any of the steps may be a ‘progression’ and a win, again depending on the ability of your rider. Note: Step 8 may have many versions like tapping the horses neck with the right index finger, holding the right rein, saying right, etc….what breakdown works for your rider and can later be built upon to work towards your Base Level TA?

Advanced Level TA:

  1. Look right towards the red cone
  2. Helmet stays stretched towards the sky
  3. Shoulders stay over hips and seat pressure is even
  4. Keep steady contact on left, outside rein
  5. Use right leg slightly behind the girth to ask horse to start bending around corner
  6. Apply slight inside, right rein if needed 
  7. Use outside left leg to keep impulsion if needed
  8. As horse comes out of the corner cue less with inside leg
  9. Go back to neutral in all aids and ask horse to track straight

This level builds off of the Base Level TA and adds in additional steps by either incorporating additional cues (because the rider can process them) and/or incorporating in other skills that the rider has practiced that are applicable in this skill. Using the Advanced Level TA above, the rider would need to have an understanding of other skills such as contact, leg cue positions, bending, impulsion, etc. (and all of those skills were taught using…you guessed it…task analysis!)

How do you build your comfort with task analysis?

  • Tip #1– Write down the most common skills that you teach (yes…I mean physically write with pen and paper). Now write down a Base Level Task Analysis for each skill. Writing out a the skill, and not just thinking about it, can really help your brain process and ‘see’ the steps to the skill and make sure you are not missing any key Base Level points. This is also a great way to work on smoothing out your explanation if you find yourself stumbling when explaining a skill during a lesson.
  • Tip #2– Look at the big picture to see the smaller, fundamental pieces. Now that you have your Base Level TA written out for each skill write down the Super Fundamental TA for them. Look at the big picture and take off your ‘horse’ goggles. Don’t think about ‘reining’ think about the rider moving their right hand and arm. What is the very basic first step to that skill (looking? A breath? closing fingers?) and go from there. The ‘start’ may look different depending on if you are writing the Super Fundamental TA for a certain student or just in general. But this mindful practice of thinking without our ‘horse goggles’ on will help train your brain to see those small things.
  • Tip #3– Think about pieces that you can add in to your Base Level TA to make it an Advanced Level TA and progress your rider within that skill. Don’t forget to look at the other ‘skills’ that may be hiding in your Advanced Level TA and have a plan on when and how you will teach those!
  • Tip #4– PRACTICE!!!! It takes hours of practice and thoughtful incorporation of task analysis for it to become easier and part of who you are as an instructor. Knowing what task analysis is is not the same as making an effort to consistently do and incorporate task analysis countless times during every lesson that you teach.

Remember that the ability to quickly and effectively do task analysis of a skill, especially real time in a lesson, is something that instructors should always be working on improving and developing. Don’t worry if you feel like you don’t have it all right now! Go out and practice!


 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!

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