Ideas wanted: "Teaching" the older rider

Background information:

I am a middle-aged trainer/riding instructor who has a couple of competition teams and has specialized as such.

My parents have recently retired from horses due to physical limitations in riding and caring for them. I have seen the toll it has taken on them and those like them.

I have been fortunate with my health and physical condition. Unfortunately, recently I suffered a herniated disc in my back. One week out of work, one week of teaching- only and I feel I am looking at several more weeks of teaching only. I am struggling physically, and thus mentally, with being a patient. It has been SO GOOD for me in building compassion with those who are not as healthy as I was.

I have a small group of older riders, some more physically able than others, who have no competitive desires. I have recently put them together into a group lesson hoping the social aspect will be beneficial for them. They are decent riders and own horses (although some lesson on lesson horses due to a myriad of reasons that their horse is no longer suitable). Prior to my injury, I was attempting to build on their riding theory and physical riding ability. My injury has changed my view on this group. I feel in many ways this lesson should incorporate some therapy of sorts, though fully admitting I have no training is this area. I feel these riders are using their love for horses to work on balance, bilateral strength and flexibility, as well as the emotional therapy we all get from horses.

Since I am not trained, my ideas to run this class are limited. I do not want or intend to make this formal PT, but aren’t there things I can do to help them in that area? Things like leg yield to work on balance and equal leg strength, circles to work on balance and core strength, etc are things I’m looking for here. Are there other ideas, from those of you who are trained or who are the age sector I speak of, that could benefit this group?

1 Like

Lots of ideas for you!

GET FRANKLIN BALLS! Watch all the videos you can about them. They are incredible self-teaching tools.

Watch all of Suzanna Von Dietze’s Videos, and get her books.

Teach these ladies to correctly longe (lots of lessons there) , and have them take turns longing each other (no stirrups, no hands, all the good exercises ), while you oversee.

Leave the PT to the horses and just concentrate on having fun, interesting ‘lessons’ for the group. Try to vary things. Plenty of pole work with interesting patterns and change of pace. There are infinite variables with pole work. Practice some dressage tests as that requires accurate riding and makes riders think forward. Try jumping a (low) fence from the walk. Ask your riders to plan the session based on their feelings after the warm up…


I’m older and would be in your lesson group if I still rode. I personally would not like the PT incorporated into a lesson, I’d just want to focus on riding. The PT part would make me feel like the focus was on my body’s weakness which is exactly what I’d be trying to get away from when riding. Riding being the escape from reality, so to speak. Even if I was just walking around the arena, in my head I want to be flying.


Great feedback! Thank you!

1 Like

As an older rider myself I am in the same camp^^ I don’t need to learn to ride and it sounds like @Showbizz 's adult lesson takers don’t either. Make the lessons fun and challenging and incorporate things they haven’t done before.

That is the best therapy ever. Learning and mastering a new skill on horseback…


I’m not retired, but I am middle aged & broken.

I do PT at my PT office; I don’t care to do it elsewhere. I don’t do medical massage because they want to fix me. I prefer the Korean place around the corner because there is no attempt to fix me. I haven’t found a new trainer at the gym because they want to rehab my broken parts. I don’t want to do rehab, I want to work out, not hard, but just work out.

Bottom line is that I don’t need to dwell on my issues in every facet of my life. I have hobbies to distract myself from those issues.


I actually think there might be a place for it-- but I’d offer it as an option or add-on. It might appeal more to people who aren’t already riding consistently. There are a lot of specialized groups locally that have sprung up and seem to do quite well-- things like “Pony Pre-K” small group lessons for very small children and “Ride and Wine” low-key lesson followed by wine tasting geared toward inexperienced adult women. So I would think a senior group that is fun, safe and supportive might actually be a really nice offering, but it won’t necessarily appeal to every older rider.

1 Like

I have a ‘Yoga on Horseback’ style lesson that I use. Start in half and align rider position during conscious breathing. Begin walk on rail or remain in halt while holding reins in one hand and doing arm circles, reach for poll-tail-stirrup-other stirrup, return to alignment and breath. Practice walk-halt-walk from seat only. Drop one or both stirrups and explore leg range of motion. Explore sitting in front of, behind and with the motion. Add brief sitting trot-walk-sitting trot transitions. If you practice yoga yourself or watch several classes, it lends itself pretty readily to riding. A yoga instructor would probably be delighted to help put something together, too. Clearing the mind of narrative and ‘chatter’ is just as important as the physical practice for a lot of adults. ‘Yin’-style yoga can be used for those with physical riding limitations or old injuries. I’ll bet you get good uptake and probably a request to run the lesson on a regular basis within a more traditional program.


My background is in therapeutic/adaptive riding, so we have conversations like this quite frequently. It is emphasized over and over and OVER again through the training process & in continuing ed that our job is to teach riding skills. You (g) can quickly get into trouble if you start doing things outside your “scope of practice.”

What we find every time is that the student benefits physically (and emotionally) from learning to ride. We don’t need to try to be anything else. Really drill into the functional equitation & rider biomechanics. Then go deep with school figures and lateral work and equine biomechanics. Teach them to really ride, while being sensitive to and compassionate about any physical limitations that may be present, and the rest will follow. The horse is the gift, as they are for us all.


Yes, and the exercises I described can also be found in Hunter Seat Equitation by George Morris and Centered Riding by Sally Swift, which are both reference books for coaches within my National Federation.

When teaching the beginning of lateral work (turn on forehand and leg yield) it’s important the riders are first sitting correctly, then capable of applying independent aids and have some range of motion.

If a rider becomes frustrated it’s helpful to teach them coping strategies like conscious breathing and positive visualization. This is applicable across all sports.

I would not personally recommend walking over jump-sized obstacles or using post-ride alcoholic drinks as part of the lesson plan, which were suggested.

1 Like

I’d focus mostly on riding, but maybe you can incorporate a 5-minute warm up/stretching session before everyone gets on. Something like this might be a good routine to follow, although I would use high lunge for the hip flexor stretch instead of the low lunge.

I am so glad you started this thread. Kudos to you, for starting it, and for giving your lessons to your elderly students!

I am 69 years old. I recently started taking lessons again, after 9 years away from horses. My trainer is not trained in therapeutic riding any more than I am, so we have been just figuring out my lessons as we go along. Most of her students are children, and they do a lot of “gymkhana” type mounted games, very low-key.

I love doing the things those kids do! Ring Toss. Weaving (at a walk) around cones. Golf Ball in Spoon (like Egg in Spoon but less messy!).

When I first started riding with her I wanted to work on “riding.” Schooling for myself and the lesson horse. She teaches mostly western, so I wanted to learn proper western riding from her and her horses.

Now I just want to have fun on horseback. I wish she had other older students that I could do group lessons with. I did get to do that one time, and had a wonderful time playing kids’ games with the other rider.

Best wishes to you and your students – and I hope you are able to start riding again soon!


:slight_smile: You sound like I feel.


ASK your riders what they want. Don’t assume! I’m not trying to slam your good intentions. I know some older riders who would be positively insulted to be grouped that way and considered to be any “less than” they were 10 or 20 years ago, even though their fitness and flexibility, etc isn’t what it used to be. As others said, I think the key is to teach everyone to ride as correctly as possible. What’s good for the horse is good for the rider. Emphasize balance and straightness and symmetry and relaxation and all the big concepts for both horse and rider and both will benefit, and you won’t be stepping outside your expertise. Keep communicating with the members of your group lesson, individually and together as a group, so you can give them what they want from the experience.


I’m an older rider. I want lessons like I had when I was seven. I want to ride around with my friends playing follow the leader and and leap-frog and popping over crossrails while the instructor corrects my position and my aids and my softness. I definitely do not want PT… borrring.

I want the level of instruction and my connection with my horse to be more sophisticated than it was when I was seven. But I still want to act like a 7-year old with her best equine friend.


This is what I want too, at age 69 1/2.