Students are just like everyone else—they get bored doing the same thing over and over again. Arena work can become particularly tedious for some clients, especially kids.
Some trainers and instructors have gone the extra mile to keep their students fresh, employing a good deal of creativity in the process. By developing fun and exciting ways to enjoy riding outside the arena, these instructors have created better attitudes in their students, and more fun for themselves.
Treasures on the Trail
Not all learning must take place in the arena, as Chris Wiese, owner of Country Acre Stables in Bentley, Alberta, Canada, discovered when she implemented a scavenger-hunt-on-horseback activity for her young horse camp students, ages 6 to 16. Although designed to be a fun event, Wiese soon realized that her students were learning a lot during this activity.
Wiese’s scavenger hunt works by giving each child a list of items that can be found on the stable’s adjacent trails or around the barn. Items include ordinary objects such as straw, a certain type of flower, or a specific kind of tree bark. Wiese sends the kids out in teams with an adult rider as a supervisor.
“In order for the riders to pick up the object when they see it, they either have to lean over on the horse or else get off and control the horse while they dismount and then mount up again,” she says. “Since these are beginning riders, all this can be challenging for them. For some, it’s even hard for them to control the horse long enough to be able to reach over and get something that is at eye level.”
According to Wiese, the scavenger hunt not only livens up the day for the kids, but also teaches them to think independently on horseback. “On the hunt, they decide on their own what they need to do with their horse instead of waiting to be told, as they would in a lesson,” she says.
The kid’s confidence on horseback also gets a boost from the scavenger hunt, where they quickly learn they can manage a horse on their own. “I see a huge difference in their confidence after the scavenger hunt,” says Wiese. “They are learning without realizing they are learning. It’s very different from what happens in an arena environment.”
Riding for Ribbons
Another creative trainer is Kenneth Torres, owner of Hoopdance Hollow Farm in Litchfield, Conn. When looking for a way to get his young students out of the arena for a fun event, he developed an activity he calls Ribbon Race Day.
On Ribbon Race Day, riders must hunt for pieces of ribbon that have been attached to trees and other objects in a local, horse-friendly park. The 80-plus ribbons are placed the day before by Torres and his barn manager from horseback, making sure all riders can access the ribbons easily from their mounts. The ribbons are snipped from old horse show ribbons, and so vary in color. The value of a ribbon is the same as it would be at a horse show: blue ribbons have the highest value, red the second highest, and so on.
Torres’ idea for a day off the property hunting for ribbons on horseback came when he decided he no longer wanted his students to participate in a local hunter pace, an activity he had taken them to in years past. Unhappy with the organizer he was working with, he decided to develop his own activity.
“My barn manager and I came up with the idea to do something in a local park that allowed horses,” says Torres. “Now that we’ve seen how much fun everyone had at the event, this will be part of our regular calendar each year.”
Torres plays the Ribbon Race game by dividing his 20-plus riders into teams with a minimum of two people and a maximum of three. Torres gives a map of the park to each team, along with clues for where to look for the blue ribbons. “For example, if a ribbon was attached to a footbridge, the clue would be ‘bridge over troubled waters,’” says Torres. Only six blue ribbons are hidden, making them particularly cherished among the riders.
Participants are told they will be penalized for galloping and screaming, a step Torres felt was necessary since the park is a multi-use venue populated by joggers, walkers and picnickers as well as riders. The biggest point prize goes to the team that can find Torres and his barn manager in the park—though no-one did.
After two hours of hunting for ribbons, the riders return to their starting point for the final tally. Afterward, riders are treated to a picnic.
“This event is invaluable for the students,” says Torres. “It relieves the boredom of arena work and the stress of showing. It is also easier on the parents than showing because we can actually tell them a time when they can pick up their kids. ”
Torres notes that Ribbon Race Day is good for the horses, too. “It’s great for their sanity to give them something different to do,” he says.
Ride and Tie
Another fun activity for trainers and students alike is an event called Ride and Tie. Although Ride and Tie is a recognized sport governed nationally by the Ride and Tie Association, the event can also be a fun activity that trainers can organize for their students.
Traditional Ride and Tie events consist of a three-member team, two humans and a horse. All three team members start out on a trail at the same time, with one mounted team member going on ahead. When the rider reaches a point where she can safely tie the horse, she stops, secures the horse to a bush or tree, and then continues on foot. The team member who began the event on foot finds the tied horse, mounts up and continues on past the other team member. She eventually stops, ties the horse, and goes ahead on foot while the horse waits for the other team member to catch up and mount. This relay continues until the winning team reaches the finish line. Although sanctioned Ride and Tie events run anywhere from 20 to 40 miles, a fun event organized for students can be as short or as long as the trainer wants.
“This is a great sport to teach teamwork,” says Ride and Tie competitor Carol Ruprecht, who is also the media relations coordinator for the Ride and Tie Association in El Cajon, Calif. “The fast kid can’t win unless she helps her partner by sharing the work. The race isn’t over until all three team members cross the finish line.”
Ruprecht notes that a trainer or riding instructor can easily put on a fun Ride and Tie event for his or her students, and can request the help of a Ride and Tie Association mentor for the process.
To stage a fun Ride and Tie event, Ruprecht recommends the following steps:
• Mark a course, which is easiest by tying ribbon to clothes pegs, and attaching the pegs to the bushes along the course.
• Print the rules from the Ride and Tie Association website (www.rideandtie.org).
• Match kids for teams by their stirrup length, not their running skills.
• If two kids share a head size, they can also share a helmet, leaving it by the horse at each switch.
• Equip horses with halters as well as bridles.
• Either teach all the kids a great tying knot, or set up the ropes in advance with climbing carabiners (an oblong metal ring with a spring clip) on their ends so the rope can be slung around the tree and clasped with the carabiner. This is the most important point: the horses must be kept safe with good ties.
• Discuss safe tying. A bush for tying should be on flat ground clear of obstacles. The horse should be able to move about while tied to the bush, and not trip over logs, or step off a dropaway. If there are only small bushes, demonstrate gathering several limbs and wrapping the rope around them, to create a good tie. Instruct the kids to watch their tied horse before they leave for the first time, to make certain the horse is tied securely and not about to panic.
• Hold a mock vet check, where each horse is trotted out for soundness, and pulse is checked. This can be before and after the course, or only afterward if preferred.
With a little extra effort and some creativity, instructors and trainers can get their students out of the arena and onto the trails for some fun and competition. The result is happier, more confident students, and happier, less bored horses.