Madison Fields’ Therapeutic Riding (TR) is run by three amazingly talented women: Jessica Simpson (ESMHL), Programs Manager; Maggie Jackson (CTRI), Head Therapeutic Riding Instructor; and Taylor Polito (CTRI), Equestrian Assistant. The program is held to high standards set by PATH International. Abiding by these standards, the TR team comes up with their own lesson plans to implement.
Every private lesson is 30 minutes, and semi-private lessons are 45 minutes. Whether they are private or in groups is determined by what is believed to be most comfortable for the participant and parent. For example, if a participant is easily distracted, then the TR staff would recommend having private lessons. An example of reasons to have a group lesson is if the participant simply works better in a group setting. If participants are to work in groups, they will be at the same skill-level and address similar needs.
Every lesson has the same core components. First, warm-ups which are related to the skill they want to achieve. The second component in the lesson is practicing that skill, so the participants will learn the steps within the skill. Third, there are progressions of skills, where participants will ride the same course and adjust what they work on if improvement is needed. Fourth, they will be able to demonstrate that skill and show off what they have learned within the session. Lastly, the participant will go over everything they learned and relax with their horse, also known as a cool-down. These 5 concepts are what can be considered the bones of every lesson plan.
The Ability to Assess the Lesson
In January, the eight-week winter session of 2020 began. As always, the first thing to do is plan out the lessons! Planning for lessons is easier said than done. What people don’t know is that a lot of external factors go into planning for each lesson. For each session, there is an overall goal set into place. In order to reach this goal, skills to work on are determined for every week, and then are implemented in various, unique ways based on the needs of the participant.
Having so many wonderful riders with varying abilities and personalities means there can be a learning curve when it comes to assigning participants with horses that match their personality and tailoring the lesson to the participant’s needs. Jessica says, “with anything you do, you have to have the ability to assess yourself and the lesson.” All of the certified instructors take notes on each lesson which helps them modify their tactics to best help the participant and their hard-working, therapeutic horses.
Sometimes, the plans don’t really go as planned. What makes it easier is that the team “shares one brain.” By this, Jess means that they all have to be in sync in order for lessons to go smoothly.
Pairing a Rider with a Horse
There are many variables that go into play when assigning each rider to a horse. This includes but is not limited to: assigning appropriate size ratio between horse and participant. For example, a 5-year-old may ride one of our ponies instead of one of our biggest horses. There’s also exploring the variables of skill level, sensory levels, availability, and how active the participant is. So, if the participant is less active, they will be paired with a more active horse.
After pairing each participant with the right horse, Jessica, Maggie, and/or Taylor may find that their pairing was actually not a good fit. This can happen when it looks like a good match on paper and in initial lessons but doesn’t end up being what the participant needs. For example, maybe what they thought to be their less-active participant was shy on the first day, but then branches out and becomes very active. The Therapeutic Riding team would then pair that participant with a less-active horse to improve the experience for both the horse and rider.
The Therapeutic Riding team individually wears multiple hats within Madison Fields. Jessica is not only a huge part of the TR team but also oversees all programs for the nonprofit. Taylor, aside from being a certified riding instructor, also coordinates the volunteer program. Maggie also wears multiple hats; she has assisted with community outreach for the TR program and works in the Agricultural Education program. With this much responsibility, there’s no doubt that some days can be stressful, but when they enter the arena, they leave that at the door and put on their instructor hat. This way, they don’t project their emotions onto the rider or the horse.
A BIG Thanks to Our Volunteers
This program is heavily supported by dedicated volunteers who put their time into helping those that we serve. If you or someone you know may be interested in volunteering for the TR program, please email us at [email protected] or call 301-349-4007.