I've had my certification for about a year now, (English-1, Western-2. Trail-2), but haven't really taught much, so I am a little intimidated about taking formal students. Foremost, I want my students to be safe. What are some of the most common ways beginner students get into trouble? Also, the facility I'll be working at doesn't have an arena yet, but does have designated "arena" areas. Do you have any tips to mitigate that issue? I also want my students to have fun. What are you favorite games for small lessons? Most of my lessons will be individual, and I plan to cap them at three riders. Thanks so much, I appreciate any advice you have.
Even though you have not had much experience, you must have good communication skills and horse sense if you received Level 2 instructor and trail guide. That tells me that you probably are okay on knowledge and ability, you just need experience to gain confidence. With each lesson that you teach, you will gain this valuable experience.
It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes: “Good judgment comes from experience, and a whole lot of that comes from bad experience,” Mark Twain. This statement is all too true in the horse business. But the fact that you are Level 2 certified leads me to believe you have had enough experience to make good judgments. That’s how beginners get into the most trouble: poor judgment; either on the part of the individual or the instructor.
Part of having good judgment includes using only the safest of horses; having qualified and complete supervision; using safe equipment and inspecting all tack before each use; having safe facilities; developing solid lesson plans; establishing and rehearsing emergency plans; and finally, imagining the absolute worst case scenario that could happen with horses and plan for that contingency.
Honestly, every time I look back on a horse wreck that I was involved in, I can find a way it could have been foreseen or prevented. Of course, the more experience you have, the easier it gets to make good judgments. But if you think it through, you’ll prevent many incidents.
As for your question about the open riding area, it is a lawsuit waiting to happen. CHA standards mandate that riding arenas are of suitable size for the activities performed (which in your case is beginner riding lessons—so you need a minimum of 32 linear feet of rail per horse); with a minimum 3’6” high fence made of wood, plastic or metal; good footing; free of hazards; as level as possible and regularly inspected and maintained. Since you are CHA certified, you have an obligation to uphold these standards because knowingly disregarding them makes you appear to be negligent.
The good news is that although beginner riders must start in a confined area, the space you need to teach a maximum of three beginners is quite small. It is only 96 linear feet of rail; or a square pen of only 24’ X 24’. That’s only 8 twelve foot coral panels and if you found some used panels, it would probably cost you less than $500. Put in a post at each corner (you could even use metal T-Posts if you had to) and you’ve got yourself a beginner arena for small group lessons.
Looking for ways to make your lessons fun, like playing games, it a wonderful idea and it meets the second of the three mandates for a good CHA lesson: Safe, Fun & Effective. There are many ideas on the CHA website (www.CHA-ahse.org) in the Q&A section on how to make lessons fun, including many games. With beginners, the main thing you are teaching them is position and control, so your games should focus on building and reinforcing those skills.
Logan, I am confident that with your commitment to safety and excellence, you are going to be a great instructor and keep your beginners safe. Get your arena in order, make sure your horses and equipment are top notch and keep your eagle eye focused on your students and their safety and before you know it, you’ll be giving advice to other new instructors on how to build a successful lesson business. Good luck!