Multiple-Step Instructions

Much of riding is multiple-step directions. Pick up the reins; sit up tall; long legs. These are three basic instructions given to clients, often as one direction. Not all clients can follow multiple, sequential instructions and instructors (and volunteers) need to be able to adjust the way they give directions.

Some clients may not follow directions because they don’t have the attention span to pay attention for more than 2-3 seconds. For a client with a short attention span, I use short instructions and utilize the whoa! I tell clients each piece of the lesson individually. For example, “ride twice around the arena.” Once that is complete, we whoa and I give them the next instruction, “circle at B,” and so on.

Any sort of processing-related difficulty can lead to a struggle in following multiple directions, especially when the directions are lost in a sentence. Instead of saying “we are going to do an obstacle course today and you are going to circle the cone, walk over the pole, get a ball and place it on the barrel,” say: “we’re going to do an obstacle course today. First, circle the cone.” Visual cues can help with clients who struggle to follow multiple directions.

Have arrows around the ring, directing riders where to go next. That way, your only instruction is “follow the arrows.” You can also use signs for each step that signify “turn left” “circle here” or “whoa.” Writing instructions down on paper can help with clients who read. Once they pass the instruction, it is ‘crossed off their list.’

Another thing to remember is to allow clients time to process. Repeating the directions tells the clients they don’t need to listen the first time. Helping them with each step tells them they don’t need to remember what’s next because someone will tell them. This can be very difficult to do so remember what the lesson goal is! Is the goal to get the client to ride a circle or is it to get the client to remember to ride a circle?

I ask clients to repeat an instruction after I give it to them so I know they are paying attention and processing what I asked. If they can’t tell me what I asked, it usually makes them focus on me for the next instruction and they are able to pay attention.

How do you handle clients with processing difficulties or weak working memories?

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About Me

Hello! I am a PATH, Intl CTRI (certified therapeutic riding instructor) and ESMHL (equine specialist in mental health and learning). I am also a graduate student clinician in speech-language pathology.

This is my little arena where I will share my experience in equine assisted activities and my burgeoning knowledge in speech-language pathology.

I’m so happy to have you here!


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