Volunteer Leader Information

Many riders at the Therapeutic Equestrian Center need help with controlling and guiding their mounts as they learn to ride. The leader’s job is to give the rider as much help with the horse as he or she requires riding safely.

How to Lead

In order to be in the best position to control the horse, walk on the left side of the mount about halfway between its head and shoulder.

SAFETY RULE #1: Do not walk directly in front of the horse or pony!
Be sure that the lead line is hanging between the reins so that it does not cause increased pressure on the bit by hanging across the top of the rein(s). Place your right hand on the lead line 10 to 12 inches from the ring, snap or buckle that attaches to the noseband or halter. Keep the extra lead line off the ground by folding it into a figure 8 and holding it in your left hand.

SAFETY RULE #2: Never wrap the extra length of lead line around your hand!
Incorrect method of holding the lead line. The mounts vary in size and temperament, therefore, some walk faster than others. Adjust your
pace to the horse’s natural gait. It should not be necessary to constantly pull forward or backward on the lead line. In order to keep the rider well-balanced, the horse or pony should:

A. Be encouraged to carry its head at a comfortable level rather than too high or too low.
B. Start, stop, and turn as smoothly as possible.

Always maintain a safe distance between mounts (a minimum of one horse length is recommended). This is just as important when lining up next to other horses as it is when following behind another horse. Many horses have a tendency to kick when crowded.

SAFETY RULE # 3: Never get too close to the horse in front of or next to you!

Leading during the Riding Lesson

At the Mounting Ramp:
If you are assisting a rider who mounts from the ramp, the instructor will tell you where to position the horse or pony at the ramp. It is the leader’s responsibility to keep the mount from moving forward or backward and as quiet as possible while the rider mounts.

Approach the ramp from the platform end and position the mount as directed and as close as possible to the side of the ramp from which the rider will be mounting. Stand directly in front of the horse or pony with your hands on the reins as well as the lead line. When the rider is ready, the instructor may ask you to move the mount a few steps forward so that the stirrups can be adjusted. 

Do so, without changing your position, by taking several steps backward, allowing the mount to move forward slowly until asked to stop. When the necessary adjustments have been made, the instructor will ask you to assume the proper leading position and assist the rider in guiding the horse to the riding area.

Mounting from the Ground or Mounting Block
If you are assisting a rider who mounts from the ground or mounting block, the instructor will tell you where to position the horse. In some cases, the rider will be asked to lead the mount to the proper position with your assistance. As at the mounting ramp, it is the leader’s responsibility to keep the mount from moving and as quiet as possible during mounting. Stand directly in front of the horse or pony with your hands on the reins, as well as the lead line. It is the instructor’s responsibility to assist the rider with mounting. The rider must wait for the instructor to help him or her mount or
supervise independent mounting. The leader should not allow or assist the rider to mount without the instructor’s directions. Riders who are waiting with their mounts must not be allowed to go behind them. They should stand quietly with the leader or sidewalker until the instructor can help them mount. Once the rider has mounted, the instructor will give him or her directions by name. The leader should know the name of the rider he or she is assisting in order to be sure that the directions are followed.

How Much to Help

The amount and kind of assistance that the rider may need will depend upon his or her experience with riding, the characteristics of his or her disability, and the temperament of the mount. The instructor will give the leader directions whenever possible, but the leader must also be alert for possibly dangerous situations (such as being too close to the horse in front of or next to you, sudden stops or sharp turns) and help the rider avoid them. The rider’s attention must be focused on the instructor’s directions and the task at hand. Casual conversation with the rider is a distraction and should be avoided.

At the Halt
Be sure that there is adequate space between mounts as you prepare to halt. When halted, step directly in from of the horse or pony and keep it from moving forward or backward until the rider is directed to proceed. Encourage the mount to remain calm and relaxed, stroking it on the neck if necessary. Do not rub the horse’s head or allow it to rub its’ head on you.

At the Walk
Working from the correct leading position, help the rider guide and control the horse as directed by the instructor. When there are one or two sidewalkers present to help the rider maintain his or her balance, be sure to allow enough space for them to work without bumping into the sides of the arena or obstacles being used for the lesson. Avoid sudden stops and sharp turns and maintain adequate space between mounts if the rider fails to do so.

At the Trot
The rider should ask the horse to trot only when directed to do so by the instructor. Once the rider is prepared to trot and gives the “trot” command to the mount, the leader should increase the pace slightly and encourage the mount to move by repeating the “trot” command. Do not run or jog in front of the mount or attempt to pull it forward with the lead line. As at the walk, the leader needs to help the rider avoid sudden stops and sharp turns, and maintain adequate space between mounts.

During Exercises and Games
When exercises are done at the halt, the leader should stand in front of the mount’s head as described under “At the Halt.” When exercises are done at the walk or trot, the leader should control the horse or pony and maintain a steady pace. Games are included in the lessons so the riders can have fun while using the skills they have learned. Leaders as well as riders need to listen to the rules given by the instructor. Enthusiasm is catching, so encourage the rider to play well and allow him or her to participate as independently as possible within the limits of safe riding.

The instructor is responsible for dismounting all riders and will give directions for the positioning of the mounts before dismounting riders. The leader is responsible for positioning the horse and then standing in front of it just as during mounting to keep it from moving and as quiet as possible. Do not allow or assist the rider to dismount without directions from the instructor.

Working with Sidewalkers

Some riders need the help of one or two persons walking next to the horse to help them maintain their balance while learning to ride. The leader is responsible for the horses or pony and the sidewalker(s) for the rider. Working together, they allow the rider to learn riding skills in safety. Riders often progress from needing three helpers to not needing any. Sidewalkers will keep the leader informed of any special needs the rider may have.
However, casual conversation between leaders and sidewalkers only serves to distract everyone’s attention from the lesson and should not take place in the ring.

Terms You Should Know:

• Thigh Hold – sidewalker forearm placed over the thigh between knee and the hip of the rider for the duration of the lesson.
• Thigh Hold at the Trot – rider has advanced and needs this assistance only at the trot.
• Heel Hold – place hand on back of rider footwear, encouraging the rider to stretch heel down
and discourage the rider from squeezing the horse's sides.
• Hand over Hand – sidewalker A and/or sidewalker B holds their hand over hand of rider to assist in the control of steering and stopping the horse.
• Verbal Assist – sidewalker A communicates the instructor’s directions to the riders.
• Leader at the Trot – Leader needed at trot only. Rider is independent at walk.
• Floater – Rider is on lead at exercises, then taken off lead but leader stays with rider for support and assistance.
• Spotter – Rider is on lead during exercises, then taken off lead. Leader goes to designated area and is standing by in case assistance is needed.

In Case of Emergency

Occasionally a rider will fall from a horse or have a problem that requires special attention. If such an emergency occurs, step immediately in front of the mount you are leading and hold it at the halt. Remain calm and keep the mount as quiet as possible. Do not let go of the lead line! The instructor will attend to the rider involved. While doing so, he or she needs to be able to rely on the leaders to keep the mounts under control in order to prevent further confusion.