Tips for Lesson Planning
By Sarah Evers Conrad
Lesson planning is an important part of developing a cohesive and organized lesson program focused on goal achievement and rider progression. According to CHA’s latest manual, The Equine Professional Manual: The Art of Teaching Riding, a lesson plan is “a clear, flexible, and individualized teaching aid for conducting a class or a short-term instructional session.”
Each lesson plan is based on the individual needs, interests, and abilities of the students involved in that lesson. It should always focus on safety and be specific, sequential, and progressively build on the student’s skill level.
Why Lesson Plan
“Lesson plans make you organize your thoughts, arena, focus, and energy,” says CHA Master Instructor Tara Reimer, who owns Cloud 9 Ranch in Steinbach, Manitoba, Canada, with her husband, Derek. This CHA Clinician, Region 2 Director, and 2013 CHA Instructor of the Year teaches Western, English, jumping, and vaulting, while also training horses at the ranch. “A lesson plan keeps you on track time wise.”
CHA Master Instructor Cheryl West is a USDF Bronze Medalist, CHA Standard, IRD, and Equine Facility Management Clinician, and director in Region 8. She owns and operates West Equestrian in Sand Springs, OK; teaches at Stormwalker Ranch; and gives clinics nationally.
“A well-thought-out lesson plan allows you to have a creative lesson for your riders,” says West. “It gives you the ability to teach to the lowest level, but allows you to be prepared for those riders who catch on a bit quicker or even a bit slower.”
Since West works with a variety of instructors, having a lesson plan ready means that another instructor can fill in and use her plan if West needs to miss a lesson. It also creates a record of skills, attendance, and horse usage.
CHA Certified Instructor Donovan Dobbs of Dobbs Horsemanship in Ozark, MO, considers a lesson plan a map that guides the rider to a specific goal. Dobbs teaches riding lessons, starts and trains horses for a variety of disciplines, offers horsemanship clinics, and serves as the Missouri representative for Region 9.
Parts of a Lesson Plan
The Equine Professional Manual advises each lesson plan should include the following sections:
- Destination, which refers to the lesson’s main goal, aim, or objective
- Preparation, such as the number of students and horses, assistants, equipment, tack, how the arena will be set up, etc.
- Explanation of the new subject or skill to be taught, which includes a step-by-step progression highlighting key points and phrases of that lesson
- Demonstration by an instructor or student who can perform the skill mounted or unmounted
- Application of the new skill by students, either as a group or individually
- Observation and Correction by the instructor as students try to master the new skill
- Repetition of the skill by students, which sometimes is done via games, patterns, etc.
- Conclusion of the lesson with a summary, review by the students, and a cool down for the horses
- Evaluation by the instructor to see if the new skill was achieved, what the strengths/weaknesses of the lesson and teaching techniques were, and what changes to the lesson are needed
Creating the Lesson Plan
Each riding instructor will have their own methods for creating a lesson plan. West, Dobbs, and Reimer start with a general list of skills students learn in their lesson program.
Dobbs uses his master list and general lesson plans as a basic blueprint to develop individualized lesson plans based on the students in each lesson. He focuses on general topics with an overall goal for each rider per lesson. Each lesson with Dobbs focuses on that overall goal until it is achieved.
He likes to cover at least two or three points under that goal, although he may be able to cover more material beyond those if time allows. Dobbs keeps lesson plans to one page or less and never works more than five lessons ahead.
Both West and Reimer use the levels provided by CHA.
“I create goals at each level,” says West, adding that next she focuses on the aids or part of the rider she wants to focus on.
She always includes a pattern of some kind, even if it’s just one that has the rider ride in and out of cones or poles. To create her lesson plans, West reviews old lesson plans, articles, books, and websites that have patterns from several disciplines, including dressage, jumping, and western riding.
Each of Reimer’s lesson plans addresses the natural aids of weight, voice, legs, hands, and energy. In addition to the lesson plan, she always has a progression plan for how students should progress through the skills.
Reimer recommends instructors write out lesson plans, and if they end up teaching more than planned, to revise the lesson plan afterward. In addition, she gains invaluable insight for lesson planning by asking for feedback on the lesson from her students afterward.
Mistakes to Avoid
One of the biggest mistakes West sees in lesson planning is not including how to do the activity. “It’s important to the rider to understand how its done, not just what,” says West. “Tell the rider specifically how to use each part of their body and when.”
Reimer warns not to overcomplicate the plan. “Some students really struggle with left and right or memorizing patterns, so keep patterns simple, and repeat them several times,” she adds.
Dobbs reminds instructors not to get so focused on what they want to teach that it affects the effectiveness of their teaching. “Keep it simple and flexible,” he says, adding that there are many ways to complete a goal. “The instructor should not get too frustrated if circumstances get you away from your lesson plan. Remember, we are dealing with horses and people with minds of their own. It should never be a one-size-fits-all program.”
After the Lesson
Taking notes on the lesson plan can help with future lesson plans. “We always write notes on each student after the lesson on what they succeeded with and what they could work on, or the next possible step,” says West. “We also will note how horses rode, any issues, or if the plan was changed.”
Reimer shares that her notes, which she archives for two years, are detailed enough that if another instructor has to step in, then they will know each rider’s strengths, weaknesses, and skill level.
However, while details are important, says Dobbs, he warns that too many can be problematic. “Some lesson plans I have seen have so much going on that I even got confused,” he adds.
Reimer’s final piece of advice is for instructors to think back on how they learned all that they know. “Don’t expect your students to learn it any faster,” she says, especially if they only ride once a week. “It took me trying to learn piano as an adult to appreciate muscle memory and retention of the skill from one week to the next.”
While lesson planning is never an exact science, being organized and fine-tuning what works for you and your lesson program can make the time invested well worth it. And CHA’s various resources, including advice from fellow members, can always improve any lesson program.
Sarah Evers Conrad is the editor of CHA’s The Instructor, and is also published in a variety of equine publications, such as Horse Illustrated, The Horse, Arabian Horse Life, American Quarter Horse Journal, American Paint Horse Journal, USDF Connection, and others. In addition, she helps equine businesses with their marketing through her company, All In Stride Marketing. AllInStrideMarketing.com.
For more on lesson planning and to see a blank sample lesson plan and several additional completed sample lesson plans, you can purchase CHA’s The Equine Professional Manual—The Art of Teaching Riding from www.CHA.horse/store.
- Pull Sample Lesson Plan from Equine Professional Manual from pg. 191 and 192
- Show the cover of The Equine Professional Manual—The Art of Teaching Riding