Role Descriptions

There are many students in our therapeutic riding program who need assistance in riding. This is when the volunteer team takes an active role in making the program work. Some riders need as many as three volunteers, two side-walkers and one leader, especially in the beginning stages of riding.

THE LEADER (of the horse)

After you arrive, sign-in on the volunteer time sheet, then relax until an instructor calls you to work with a particular student.

At the mounting ramp:

When leading a rider who mounts from the ramp, pay close attention to the instructor, who will tell you where to position the horse at the ramp, and will give you careful instructions on how to best help your rider. The horse should be as close as possible to the ramp. The most important thing is to keep the horse as quiet as possible. Stand directly in front of the horse, with your hands holding the reins on either side of the bit. Be careful not to hold the reins too tightly so as not to upset the horse. Do not put your foot on the side of the ramp, keep both on the ground.

When asked to move the horse away from the ramp, do not turn around. Back up slowly

and stop when instructed. After stirrups are adjusted, you may bring the rider into the ring and stand next to your horse’s head on the near side.

Mounting in the ring:

The student you are working with may be able to lead the horse into the arena with your assistance, or you may be asked to lead the horse in by yourself. The instructor will help the student mount if it is necessary. Only help if you are asked by the instructor. While you await mounting, please be sure that the rider does not wander around behind any of the horses or disturb the other students. Stand at the horse’s head and ask the rider to stand with you. This is a good time to get better acquainted with the rider.

Leading in the arena:

When you have entered the arena, please be responsive to the instructors directions. Be sure that you are a safe distance from the horse in front of you. During the class, instructions will be given to each rider by name, so it is critical that you are able to "reinforce" directions if your rider has missed them. Try to discourage casual conversation and encourage concentration. Direct the rider's attention to the instructor's directions.

At the walk: Some leaders forget that they have side-walkers working with them, possibly on both sides, and they get too close to the sidewall of the arena. Others forget that it is their job, at all times, to know exactly what is happening to the riders and their fellow volunteers. Was your rider comfortable and confident at the trot the last time? Are you sure that no stirrups were lost? Is the rider's position improving over the course of the lesson? It's important that you know.

Although none of our horses are known kickers, any horse will kick if another horse gets too close. Give yourself a horse’s length distance between you and the horse in front of you. If the rider has difficulty maintaining a safe distance, you should intervene. Remember that some students may have trouble with space orientation, and may not realize when they are getting too close.

Do not help the rider make turns, stop, or make the horse walk on unless you are asked to by the instructor. Many students can do it by themselves, but won't if you don't let them.

Your goodwill and common sense are good, or you wouldn't be willing to join us. Use your judgment if you see your rider is beginning to have problems or is unable to follow instruction. Offer help when necessary, but try to let the rider do as much as possible.

At the trot:

Several times during the lesson, your rider may be asked to trot. At the trot, leaders must be even more alert. The instructor may consult with the rider and the volunteer team on the trot. Make sure the rider is sitting squarely in the saddle and is holding onto the hand hold (if necessary). Do not start the trot until instructed to do so. Give the rider every opportunity to make the horse trot without volunteer aid. If this proves impossible, ask the side-walkers to give the horse a light punch in the flank, behind the saddle, low on the side. At the same time, encourage the rider to ask the horse to "Trot on!". Our horses are fairly responsive to voice commands. Do NOT jog or run in front of the horse, yanking ahead with the lead line, this will only upset the horse. When instructed to walk or halt, do so in a straight line, so as not to unbalance the rider. Feel free to say anything to the rider or side-walkers that will ensure the success of the riding session... but discourage casual conversation during the lesson.

During exercises: From time to time during the lesson, your rider will be asked to bring the horse to the center of the arena to do tasks such as reaching for the horse's ears or tail, or lying back on the horses hind quarters, etc. Your job as Leader during these exercises is to step in front of the horse's head to stop any forward movement. You should hold the horse's reins on either side of the bit.

During games: Games are important to every lesson. The games may be simple, such as "Simon Says' or "Red Light, Green Light". They may be more complex, such as "Musical Stalls". The leader plays an important part in every game. Watch your rider to see if the rules are understood. If you have. no side-walkers, try to get the rider excited about playing the game, show your own enthusiasm ... it can be contagious. Do not play the game for the rider. Being able to play as independently as possible is the key to real accomplishment and pride. "'


Unless otherwise instructed, don't try to help your rider dismount. The instructor will ~ give specific directions about whether to bring the student to the ramp or to remain in the ring.  Again, keep your horse quiet by standing in front while the rider is helped off.

Second thoughts:

Falls are very rare, indeed, but they can happen. If your rider falls, your responsibility is to keep control of the horse. The instructor will take care of the student. If another rider falls and the horse gets loose, stand in front of your horse and hold the reins as you do for mounting and dismounting. DON'T PANIC. Remember, some of these people frequently fall in everyday life. The instructor is trained to handle any situation, and has specialized knowledge of your rider's physical condition. Please keep your horse absolutely quiet and let the teaching staff take care of the rest.


The job of the side-walker is to walk next to the rider, with your shoulder roughly next to the rider's hip, to help the rider maintain balance. Especially in the beginning stages of riding, some riders have definite balance problems. Depending on the degree of difficulty, there will be one or two side-walkers assigned to each rider.

Be sure to check the "Student Information Card File" before each ride, to learn tips on how best to deal with your rider. The instructor will inform you as to the requirements of your rider, also. For example: some students will not have to be held all the time, they may need side- walkers for psychological support, and in case of emergency. Others will need physical support. Hold your rider by the safety belt, not by the clothes.

It is your primary responsibility to see that the rider does not fall. If the rider begins to slip, do not grab, but aid him or her back into the correct position.

It is also your responsibility to be aware of your rider's position and attitude every step of the way. If the rider wants to chat with you, try to discourage this without being too rude. Don't ignore direct questions, but then redirect the riders attention to the instructor. If the rider becomes distracted or misses a direction you may reinforce it again.

You will probably be asked to fill out a "Volunteer report" on the rider since it is you who will be at his or her side the entire time. Familiarize yourself with the report form before the ride and be thinking about how the rider is doing during the lesson in relation to the form. Your responses and comments are useful to the staff in diagnosing your riders therapeutic progress. The comments needn't be in "professional terminology". Because you are the one closest to the student during the lesson, your input is valuable.

** If all these instructions sound "terribly serious", they are. But veteran volunteers will tell you that it's also great fun to work with a therapeutic riding program. There's laughter, joy, and shared accomplishments. Your rider will thank you after the lesson. We thank you too. The UNH Therapeutic Horseback Riding Program couldn't continue without you!

 Accent On Accreditation

Follow The Leader

By SusanF. Tucker, NARHA Accreditation Committee

As a volunteer, one of the most challenging duties you could be assigned is the position of leader. A leader's first responsibility is the horse, but you must also continually be aware of the rider, instructor, and any potential hazards in or around the arena. Also, you must consider the sidewalkers, making sure there is enough room along the fence, and around obstacles for them to pass.

An effective leader pays close attention to the rider's needs as well as to where the horse is going. This reinforces the rider's attempts to control the horse. However, you should not execute an instruction for the rider before he has time to process the information and make an effort to comply. Sometimes it may be appropriate to walk into the comer and stand until the student figures out what to do.

Avoid the temptation to talk to the rider and/or side-walkers. A rider may get confused by too much input and not know who's in charge. (Instructors often make terrible leaders because they can't keep their mouths shut!)

Walk alongside the horse, about even with this eye. This helps keep him in a proper frame, which is more beneficial for everyone.  Talk to the horse; most of them know "whoa", "walk", and "trot", or can learn the words. Watch where you're going and what's happening around you. Do not walk backward to look at the rider. It's dangerous for everyone and the horse isn't eager to follow someone who can't see where he is going.

The tail end of the lead should be looped in a figure-eight in the left hand to avoid tripping on it. Never coil the rope around your hand. That could end a close relationship with your fingers!

Use short tugs rather than a steady pull to keep a lazy horse moving. The horse can set himself against a steady pull, but tugs keep him awake. Move out, about 1,000 steps per 15 minutes, to provide the most therapeutic benefit. When you halt for more than a few seconds, stand in front of the horse with your hands on the halter's cheek pieces (if the horse permits) or loosely hold the lead or reins. Standing in front is a psychological barrier to the horse, and he will stand more quietly than if he has an easy chance to move out. If you like your thumbs, don't put them through the snaffle or halter rings.

If the worst happens and there is an accident, stay with the horse. There are other people to care for a fallen rider. The situation could easily become more dangerous if there are loose horses running around the arena. Move your horse as far from the fallen student as possible and keep calm. Listen for the instructor's directions.

These suggestions can help you control your horse, be a good aide to a rider, and be a valuable assistant to an instructor. You will provide real therapeutic input to your rider, as well as make it safe for them to have fun riding. In short, if you lead, we'll be happy to follow.

 Effective Sidewalking

By Susan Tucker and Molly Lingua, R.P.1:

Sidewalkers are the ones who normally get the most hands-on duties in therapeutic riding. They are directly responsible for the rider. As such, they have the capability to either enhance or detract from the lesson.

In the arena, the side-walker should help the student focus his/her attention on the instructor. Try to avoid unnecessary talking with either the rider or other volunteers. Too much input from too many directions is very confusing to anyone, and to riders who already have perceptual problems, it can be overwhelming. If two side-walkers are working with one student, one should be the "designated talker" to avoid this situation.

When the instructor gives a direction, allow your student plenty of time to process it. If the instructor says "Turn to the right toward me", and the student seems confused gently tap the right hand and say "Right", to reinforce the command. You will get to know the riders and learn when they need help and when they're just not paying attention.

It's important to maintain a position by the rider's knee. Being too far forward or back will make it very difficult to assist with instructions or provide security if the horse should trip or shy.

There are two ways to hold onto the rider without interfering. The most commonly used is the "arm-over-the thigh" hold. The side-walker grips the front of the saddle (flap or pommel depending on the horse's size) with the hand closest to the rider. Then the fleshy part of the forearm rests gently on the rider's thigh. Be careful that the elbow doesn't accidentally dig into the rider's leg.

Sometimes pressure on the thigh can increase and/or cause muscle spasticity, especially with the cerebral palsy population. In this case, the "therapeutic hold" may be used. Here, the leg is held at the joints, usually the knee and/or ankle. Check with the instructor/therapist for the best way to assist. In the (unlikely) event of an emergency, the arm-over -thigh hold is the most secure.