Structure Your Schooling Session

The following are study guide notes for Solo Schooling by Wendy Jago.  For non-equestrian subscribers, be creative as you read these coaching notes about how to structure the schooling session.  Find ways to relate these ideas to your non-riding goals.  Substitute the horse for a coworker, family member, teammate, or your passion, sport, advocation, etc.


book study

Part 4: “Coaching in Action” Chapter 12: “Structuring the Work Session”

P 181- 183  CHAPTER INTRO: Be aware of focus when riding to avoid disappointment or a sense of failure.  Riding without focus won’t provide a sense of fulfillment.  Using a narrow focus, (such a focusing on perfection) produces a “trying” state and a success/failure frame.  Over-focus, (from feeling rushed), prevents the horse and rider from tuning into each other.  Use these guidelines to structure a schooling and/or coaching session:

  • work with an articulated agenda, but stay open to unexpected opportunities to serve your larger goals.
  • stay focused on the process, (rather than details of what happened during the schooling session).  Focus on the process means defining how something happened, what contributed to it happening, and what problems of action/reaction were at work.
  • be willing to experiment and abandon experiments that aren’t working.
  • use warm-up to tune into the heart of concern; attend to what is observable, interesting, and relevant.  Mark your learning by determining your next steps, adding homework before the next session, when appropriate.

SOLO SCHOOLING FORMAT: Caveats-(p186-187)- Shape each sessions into an enjoyable, productive experience for you and your horse.  Use the format as a basis, but be open to making diversions.

P 181-182 FORMAT


  • tune in
  • free/unblock
  • frame


  • explore
  • resource
  • focus & forward action


  • unwind
  • celebrate
  • mark learning
  • think forward


p183-184  STAGE ONE: WARM UP the mind and body of you and your horse.  Never cut this stage short.  If you work more than one horse, remember each needs an adequate warm-up.

  • TUNING IN: develop rapport with the horse, while you are walking on a long rein.  Discover how your horse is feeling physically and mentally.  Build on rapport & trust developed during TUNING IN; extend with play, experimentation, and discovery to the heart of the lesson.
  • FREEING & UNBLOCKING: TUNING IN provides information to anything that blocks fluency, (tightness or distraction of horse or rider).  To release and unblock, work long and low, ride big shapes, change directions frequently, do suppling exercises, alternate rising/sitting trot, light/deep seat, play with weight & rein aids, leg yield on straight lines and on circles.
  • FRAMING: check your state, (feelings), to ensure a positive frame to produce a productive, rather than limiting session.  If your frame is negative, return to FREEING & UNBLOCKING.  Monitor opportunities your horse offers to improve something you or he finds difficult.

P 185-186  STAGE TWO: WORKOUT  This state is full of engagement leading to learning, consolidation, or achievement.  It doesn’t need to last long; cultivate stopping at the peak moment to carry positive feelings forward to the next session.

  • EXPLORING- the state of playful attentiveness, (give & receive); variations of the message yield different results- notice and reflect on feedback from your conversation.
  • RESOURCING- become aware of what is needed to resolve difficulties or to take you further. Note external resources, (ex- schooling patterns, work without stirrups, etc) and internal resources, (ex- strategies to a foster positive state, etc), and capability issues, (ex- need to schedule a lesson or get more information).
  • FOCUSING & FORWARD ACTION- the heart of playful learning; moments of intense focus when you refine something enough to feel you’ve made a difference, which will take you in the direction you want to go.


  • CELEBRATING- reward your horse immediately as soon as you receive a ‘yes’ feeling
  • UNWINDING- take time to cool muscles, unwind mentally by allowing focus to open
  • MARKING THE LEARNING- while you are cooling down; put the experience into a frame that is easily remembered and retrieved.  Remind yourself of key ideas a couple of times immediately after the schooling session.
  • THINKING FORWARD- as you put your horse back and take yourself home, ask yourself what comes next.  Finish with a curiosity frame for continued exploration and inquiry at many levels.

p 187- 192  THE WORK STRUCTURE IN ACTION- Read about a schooling session with Sean, a professional trainer and Harry, an Intermediate event horse.  Harry responds to pressure by rearing.  Sean uses coaching & nlp to engage and work Harry on the bit without force or pressure. Two successful strategies for Sean were using an exhale breath on down transitions and “spinning back” his inside shoulder in time with the canter stride.  “Spinning back” the shoulder is Charles de Kunffy’s strategy for engagement in the canter, which has the effect of enhancing the massaging effect of the inside seat bone on the horse’s corresponding long back muscle, which encourages the same side hind leg to engage and lift in the canter.  The rider can use this non-confrontational aid intermittently to rebalance and collect or for longer periods to promote and maintain engagement.

P 192- You can learn from even difficult or frustrating sessions.  Progress means shifts in your mind and your horse’s mind, just as much as “improvement” in your observable performance.



2 comments on “Structure Your Schooling Session

  1. Some very good techniques to incorporate into the workout. I also love the engaging and and
    rewarding your horse and yourself. Makes me wish I were younger and could ride and do some
    of these things.

    • me too; maybe you can when you come to Colorado. That is the whole point of equitherapy- using horses to heal. There are many disabled people who only experience fluency in movement on a horse during their equitheray sessions. 🙂

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