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Horse Handler Levels – new identification system

To our Valued Volunteers:

Thank you for taking part in our new horse handler levels identification system. Our hope is that this system will clearly outline the expectations for each level and support volunteers to identify specific areas of interest, additional training and growth. Our goal is to match volunteers and horses appropriately to ensure a successful, safe experience for all involved. Upon completion of Horse Handler training, staff will complete your criteria check off to determine your current level, then will share the outcome with you. Additional experience and training will allow personal growth and development to move between levels. Physical stamina for speed and amount of trotting are considered with leader/horse matches.
Please note: volunteers must possess all criteria items for their level and the previous levels (e.g. as a Level 3, you must meet Level 1, 2, and 3 criteria). Leaders must meet at least 80% of the criteria for each level to be assigned to that level. Items in BLUE are mandatory.

Leading In Class:

Level 1 Criteria

  • Attends to and follows instructor’s directions, including waiting for their request to adjust stirrups or girth (it is necessary for leaders to be able to hear the instructor to maintain safety.)
  • Provides appropriate, timely, gentle feedback to the horse.
  • Holds lead rope with two hands without wrapping around hand or allowing to drop on the ground.
  • Leads with focus on horse and facing forward (does not turn around to talk to sidewalkers or participant while active in lesson.)
  • Displays/role models basic horse safety skills e.g. walks in front of the horse, if crouching near the horse can move quickly out of the way.
  • Maintains safe spacing within the lesson with minimal prompting.
  • Accurately executes the correct cues for whoa, walk-on, and trot.
  • Can explain and demonstrate emergency procedures in a lesson situation.
  • Knows and can demonstrate simple ring figures:

◦ Half circle to reverse
◦ Track left/track right
◦ Circle at letter
◦ Down centerline
◦ On the rail
◦ Cut across the arena

  • Heads off the horse when halted, standing at a reasonable distance.
  • Respects the horse’s emotional and physical boundaries: does not snuggle, nuzzle, kiss, hug.

Level 2 Criteria

  • Demonstrates smooth and timely transitions.
  • Demonstrates wide and smooth turns, taking the horse’s size and the rider’s balance into consideration.
  • Demonstrates safe handling at mount, including allowing ample space for straight entry at the mounting block.
  • Independently completes adequate warm-up for their horse prior to lesson.
  • Reliably and independently maintains a position between the horse’s head and shoulder while leading.
  • Holds lead rope with a smile between the bit and the first hand.
  • Independently announces entrance to the arena.
  • Proactively plans for safe spacing so as not to disrupt the riding experience (e.g. uses circles, or cutting across the arena as opposed to halting.)
  • Is aware of equipment safety and functionality. For example: corrects the reins so they do not slide off the horse’s neck.
  • Readily accepts mentoring and/or constructive feedback and demonstrates a willingness to learn.
  • Independently shows ring etiquette, such as announcing when passing and alerting others when halting on the rail etc.
  • Knows and can demonstrate intermediate ring figures:

◦ change rein across the diagonal
◦ down the quarter line
◦ Serpentine
◦ inside/outside

  •  Appropriately assesses the time and place for verbal and physical aids.
  • Checks with the instructor about lead line placement (on the bit or halter).
  • Independently pulls stirrups down before entering the mounting area.
  • Promotes appropriate equine boundaries with other volunteers and participants
  • Is able to lead effectively from both left and right sides.

Level 3 Criteria

  • Is mindful of environmental situations that may trigger the horse’s stress response and advocates effectively for support.
  • Leader effectively considers and manages personal emotions so as not to negatively impact the horse.
  • Employs effective strategies for changing the movement of the horse without pulling/dragging.
  • Understands and responds to the nuance of horse communication.
  • Leader promotes and affects the straightness of the horse and quality of its movement.
  • Actively seeks opportunities to increase their personal education and awareness.
  • Makes adjustments to retain horse’s attention and re-directs behaviors.
  • Gives the proper degree of assistance to gain the maximum independent use of aids from the rider.
  • Correctly and effectively utilizes artificial aids to improve the quality of the horse’s movement.

Level 4 Criteria

  • Selects the right strategy in the right moment specific to the horse and situation.
  • In the event of an emergency or unanticipated equine behavior, independently reacts appropriately for the situation at hand (for the participant, horse, activity, etc.)
  • Effectively de-escalates or redirects aberrant equine behaviors.
  • Reliably detects and reports behavioral or health concerns with the horse to appropriate staff.
  • Can be relied on as a mentor to new volunteers.

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