Using Learning Style Preferences to Teach More Effective Riding Lessons

September 25, 2017

 

USING LEARNING STYLE PREFERENCES TO TEACH MORE EFFECTIVE RIDING LESSONS
Karen L. Waite, PhD., Michigan State University eXtension

 

Try to think back to when you first learned to ride a horse with any finesse, i.e., when you learned to ride correctly as opposed to just staying on.  For some of us, it may have been years ago, for others a few months, or for some who prefer to “just ride around”, not at all.   As a 4-H or Pony Club leader, it may be hard for you to remember what it felt like and how difficult it may have been to have someone teach you, among other things, where to put your legs, hands, arms and head and oh yes, to “GET YOUR HEELS DOWN”! The odds are good that it may have been frustrating for you at times, depending on your physical ability, enthusiasm, motivation , the cooperation of your horse and, of course, your instructor.  The odds are also good that now, as an instructor, you’re experiencing some of the same frustrations you did when you first learned to ride, because your students “JUST AREN’T GETTING IT!!!”

 

You may be faced with a child who, for some reason, just doesn’t seem to improve or respond to your lessons like the other kids do.  The focus of this discussion will be not only to try to help you “get through” to that student who is having trouble, but to potentially improve the skills of all of your students by considering differences in learning style.


What are Learning Styles?

Educational research has shown that everyone has a preferred learning style through which they learn most effectively  (Sasson-Edgette, 1996).  While the research is expansive and complex, for the purposes of this discussion we will focus on preferred “sensory modalities”.  These are the sensory channels or pathways through which people prefer to give, receive and store information, including information on how to ride a horse (Keefe, 1987). While we learn with all modalities, we generally have strengths or weaknesses in a given area.  Research suggests that there are three basic types of sensory learning preferences or styles; visual, auditory and kinesthetic.

 

The visual learner tends to learn best by seeing.  These people think in pictures and have vivid imaginations.  Being able to actually see what it is they’re trying to absorb helps this type of learner attain skills most effectively.  The visual learner tends to learn best through demonstration, pictures, videos etc.  Experts estimate that 60 to 65% of the population are visual learners.

The auditory learner talks about what to do when they learn.  These types of learners enjoy listening, but also talk as they learn.  The auditory learner learns best through lecture or through descriptions of “what to do”.  Experts estimate that 30% of the population are auditory learners.

 

Finally, the kinesthetic or tactual learner prefers to touch and manipulate things.  Kinesthetic learners learn best by doing and tend to express feelings physically.  Interestingly, most students doing poorly in school are kinesthetic learners.  Instruction in schools is generally geared toward the other modalities and consequently the kinesthetic learner falls behind, loses confidence and may eventually come to resent school.  It is estimated that 10% of the population are kinesthetic learners.

 

It stands to reason that naturally talented riders with a strongly developed sense of feel may be more kinesthetic learners, based on their preference to learn by doing, but we don’t know that for certain.  Regardless of the situation, the most effective learning opportunities present material using all modalities, giving all students an equal chance to learn. Incorporating activities geared toward all three sensory pathways may enhance the effectiveness of riding lessons as well.

 

Learning Styles and Riding

When most of us learned to ride we got a horse, rode in a circle and listened as someone tried to tell us where to put our feet, legs etc.  Occasionally we might watch someone else and try to copy him or her, but more often than not we listened.  Using this typical method, those of us with a strong auditory learning style rapidly improved our riding skills and those of us without may have struggled.  It is possible, however, that as teachers we may be able to help students improve their riding skills at a much quicker rate by incorporating all learning styles into our lessons.

 

Consider, for example teaching students to recognize when they’re on the correct lead.  We can incorporate all three learning styles into a single lesson on the topic, hopefully improving the chances that everyone will “get it”.  The same is true of teaching students to post on the correct diagonal.  Lesson plans incorporating all three learning styles into teaching both of these skills are found at the end of this discussion, but learning style preferences can be incorporated into any lesson plan.

 

Identifying Learning Preferences

While there are a variety of analytical tests and tools to identify preferred learning styles, the simplest way to identify a student’s preferred learning style seems to be by observing the student.  How has a particular student responded in the past?  Do they prefer to talk and discuss what they’ve learned?  Perhaps they have an auditory preference.  Do they need to see things or do things to grasp them effectively?  They probably are more visual or kinesthetic learners.  Odds are good that you already know what your student’s learning preferences are, but have never thought about them in this context.

 

Trouble Spots

It may seem like a lot of work to identify every student’s preferred learning style and subsequently tailor your riding lesson to each individual.  In fact, it would be a lot of work.  A more effective teaching method would be to incorporate some of each learning style into every lesson, and only tailor to an individual when that student is having trouble.  While it may take some getting used to, incorporating preferred learning styles into riding lessons will take you far toward improving both the riding ability and the self-concept of your students…and isn’t that what it’s all about?!

 

Lesson Plans

Please read our sample lesson plans, tailored for each learner style:

 

  • Lesson Plan 1

Topic
     - Recognizing Leads

 

Materials Required
     - Tacked up horse, 2 different colored leg wraps or boots, lunge line and whip if necessary

 

Objectives
At the conclusion of this lesson, students will:

- Recognize a horse cantering on the correct and incorrect lead from the ground.

- Recognize when the horse they are riding is on the correct or incorrect lead.

 

Visual
The most time honored method of teaching someone when they’re on the correct lead generally involves (at least initially) having the student “look down” to see if the horse’s inside leg is reaching out further.  We’ve all seen students begin to canter and then lean way over to “look” at the horse’s foreleg.  Unfortunately, we often forget to have them look at the outside leg for comparison.  A visual learner might benefit from first watching the horse canter on a lunge line.  Wrap the horse’s forelegs with different colored wraps and have the student actually SEE the horse moving on the correct lead.  Then have a teen leader ride the horse on the correct and incorrect lead and have the students identify when the horse is correct and incorrect.  Finally have the student canter their horse and “look for” the proper lead.

 

Auditory
After the visual exercises, continue to describe to the student what the correct lead should look like from the top of the horse.  Have them focus on the horse’s shoulders as they listen to you describe the correct lead.  Then ask them “what they see”.  Have them tell you what they see (whether it’s the correct lead or not).  Encourage them to talk about what they’re seeing and/or feeling.

 

Kinesthetic
Once you’ve addressed leads in the context of visual and auditory learning styles, see if you can get the students to “feel” the correct lead.  This is ultimately what we’re shooting for, regardless, but some students may pick up the skill much quicker by starting out this way.  Lunge your students (wearing helmets!) on a safe horse, at the canter.  When they feel comfortable have them close their eyes and feel what happens to their body when the horse canters on the proper lead.  Their inside hip should drop further than the outside.  Their inside leg may feel like it’s “going further” than the outside.  Don’t force students to close their eyes if they aren’t comfortable!  The exercise works with eyes open, as well, and is also useful when helping students learn to sit the canter.

 

Evaluation
Students will identify when a horse is on the correct lead from both the ground and when riding.

 

  • Lesson Plan 2

Topic
          - Posting the trot on the correct diagonal (assumes some work on posting has already been done)

 

Materials Required
          - Tacked up horse, 2 different colored leg wraps or boots, lunge line and whip if necessary

 

Objectives
At the conclusion of this lesson, students will:

- Recognize a rider posting on the correct and incorrect diagonal from the ground.

- Recognize when they are posting the trot on the correct or incorrect diagonal.

 

Visual
Wrap a diagonal pair (LF, RH or RF, LH) of the horse’s legs with the leg wraps.  Have the horse trot on the lunge line and point out to the students that the diagonal pairs of legs move together in a 2 beat gait.  Compare it to the walk etc.  Have a teen leader ride the horse (off the lunge line) and post the trot on the correct diagonal.  Point out that the rider moves forward and up as the foreleg nearest the rail moves forward etc.  Have the rider post on the incorrect diagonal.  Have the students identify when the rider is correct or not.

 

Auditory
After the visual exercises, continue to describe to the student what the correct diagonal should look like from the top of the horse.  Have them count out the beats of the trot.  Have them focus on the horse’s shoulders as they listen to you describe the correct diagonal.  Then ask them “what they see”.  Remind them to “rise and fall with the leg on the wall”. Have them tell you what they see (whether it’s the correct diagonal or not).  Encourage them to talk about what they’re seeing and/or feeling.

 

Kinesthetic
Once you’ve addressed diagonals in the context of visual and auditory learning styles, see if you can get the students to “feel” the correct diagonal.  This is ultimately what we’re shooting for, regardless, but some students may pick up the skill much quicker by starting out this way.  Lunge your students (wearing helmets!) on a safe horse, at the trot.  When they feel comfortable have them close their eyes and feel what happens to their body when the horse trots. Have them feel for when the horse’s inside hind foot is on the ground.  This means that the outside foreleg is also on the ground and they should be sitting.  When the legs leave the ground to move forward, they should be rising.  Don’t force students to close their eyes if they aren’t comfortable!

 

Evaluation
Students will identify when a rider is posting on the correct diagonal and when they are posting on the correct diagonal themselves.

 

References and Resources

Keefe,  J. W. .  1987.  Learning Style: Theory and Practice. National Association of  School Principals, Reston, VA.

 

Sasson-Edgette, Janet.  1996.  Heads Up!  Practical Sports Psychology for Riders,  Their Families and Their Trainers.  Doubleday Publishing, NY, NY.

 

EquiSearch article: Choosing the Right Instructor for Your Child by David Wyatt and Brooke Garratt

 

EquiSearch article:  A Child's Safe Start to Horseback Riding by Jayne Pedigo

 

32nd Annual National Youth Horse Leaders Symposium, March 27 - 29, 2009, Lincoln, Nebraska

 

American Riding Instructors Association

 

Certified Horsemanship Association

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