How To Talk To Your Students

Everyone speaks to their students differently depending on their personality and their student. Some people like to use different voices for different ages. Some people are lecturers. Some people treat adults like children, or vice versa. And so on.

But I want to talk about the actual words you use. These are some general rules of thumb I’ve picked up over the past year about talking to your students of any age:

  • Be concise, short, simple.
    • If their attention starts to wander, it’s time to shorten it up! Even though you want to explain every detail of the game right now, most of the time a short sweet explanation will suffice, and details can be supplemented during the game. The less extra words the better.
    • Example of not concise: “Jack and Jill, we are going to play a game! There are all these cards on this block. They each have a matching card on that barrel over there. You are going to pick one of these cards, ride to that barrel, woah your horse, find the matching card, ask your sidewalker to hand it to you, walk back to this block, and put the two together.”
    • Example of concise: “Jack and Jill, we are going to play a matching game! You will pick a card off this block, ride to the barrel, woah, find the matching card, and bring it back here. Your sidewalker can help if needed.”
    • Notice the concise instruction didn’t go into complete detail about who gets the card or holds it, but rather gives the student room to figure it out. When they woah at the barrel and can’t reach the card, you can give prompts like, “Oh no you can’t reach! What should you do?” Then they can step closer, or ask their sidewalker for help, etc.
  • Ask questions. Be interactive.
    • This helps keep their attention and includes them.
    • Example: “Jack and Jill, what’s on this block?…That’s right, cards! We are going to play a matching game! You will…etc.” or “Jack and Hill, what does ‘matching’ mean?…That’s right, it means something is similar, alike…”
  • Treat them like neurotypical adults, then simplify from there.
    • I notice some  people start right off talking to disabled adults and youth like they are babies. I prefer to start off talking to them like I talk to anyone else, and simplify from there. Based on how the student responds I may change my tone of voice, length of explanations, and amount of assistance. (To put it bluntly, I think it’s more respectful to work my way down than up). Basically, I like to start off with high expectations. Which leads to the following…
  • Have high expectations! (And teach your volunteers to!)
    • Because if you don’t give them the opportunity to act like an adult, or do something themselves, they probably won’t. And if you don’t expect it, they’ll get away with not having to do it. For example, I have learned that most students will not use the reins to steer every time if their leader is controlling the horse anyway, or if their instructor doesn’t expect (aka wait f0r) them to!
    • Teach your volunteers to have high expectations, too! In how they talk to students and in how much they help them. Specifically, make sure sidewalkers and leaders aren’t doing things for the student. You can make kind corrections indirectly through speaking to the student, “Jack, next turn Suzy isn’t going to help you, so it’s up to you to use your left rein, or your horse won’t turn.”
    • It’s okay to wait! Waiting shows expectation. Wait for the student to use their rein before the leader helps turn the horse. Wait for the student to use their words before the leader has the horse start walking. But make sure it’s a friendly wait with room for grace if they’re having a hard time :)
  • Talk to your helpers through your students.
    • This involves the student, instead of excluding them from your instructions to helpers.
    • Example of not doing this: “Jack, steer through the cones. Suzy, use hand taps if he needs it.”
    • Example of doing this: “Jack, steer through the cones. If you need help, Suzy will remind you which hand to use by tapping it.”
  • Have fun with words! Some students will really latch on to sayings or funny word usages.
    • For example, I had one student who, when she got nervous, would keep telling herself, “It’s not scary, it’s fun!” I’m pretty sure someone taught her that. I like to use it myself now!
  • Give specific praise.
    • Wrong: “Good job!”
    • Right: “Good using your left rein!” or “I like how straight your back is!”

This is a short little list of what’s been on my mind lately, and I’m sure there’s much more to it! Do you have any tips to add?

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Note: This is not professional advice, this is a blog. I am not liable for what you do with or how you use this information. The activities explained in this blog may not be fit for every rider, riding instructor, or riding center depending on their current condition and resources. Use your best personal judgement!

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One thought on “How To Talk To Your Students

  1. Sooo true…. be concise and clear… even when dealing with new/beginner and Nervous riders…. it doesn’t go “into the brain” if you are too wordy! :-) I also like to get them to “sing” if nerves are “coming to the top”….

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