Learning to ride a horse is a journey, and every time you get into the saddle you learn something, whether that lesson is apparent or not at the time. It is a journey that is unique to each individual rider. Progress comes slowly at times and by leaps and bounds at others. Learning to ride takes years of practice, miles in the saddle, and, most of all, patience. Patience with yourself. Patience with the horse. And trust that progress will come, however slowly it may feel at times. 

With this understanding, we broke down riding education into four levels based on the natural progression of horsemanship: General Horsemanship & Control at the Walk, Control at the Trot (On and Off of Lunge Line), Control at the Canter, and Advanced Control. We developed this curriculum to not only outline sequential, attainable goals, but to also reward each victory and achievement within the learning process. While our curriculum loosely follows that of the Certified Horsemanship Association, it is tailored to the individual needs of the riders in our program. 

The stages and requirements for each level are detailed below, along with some sample arena tests. You can easily follow along with your own progress or look ahead to what comes next. 


riding levels


In Level 1, the student will learn proper handling and care of the horse from the ground, including haltering, leading, grooming, tacking and leading. Depending on the student’s age, each of these tasks may be assisted by the instructor (ex: lifting the saddle onto the horse’s back). The student will also learn to effectively and safely control the horse through the walk, while practicing a good, balanced seat and use of all 4 aids.

Level 1 Lesson Topics:

  • Approaching, catching & haltering
  • Propper halter fit
  • Leading, turning and tying
  • Grooming, saddling & bridling
  • Mounting & dismounting with control
  • Basic seat & hand position
  • Basic aids
  • Ask, tell, command
  • Start, stop and check and release
  • Walk-stop transitions
  • Turning and riding through corners
  • Basic figures (circles, weaving, reverses) & obstacle courses
  • Big vs small circles
  • Stopping on the circle
  • Dropping & finding reins
  • Rein length
  • Half seat at the walk
  • One rein / emergency stop
  • Fast vs slow walk – lengthening / shortening stride at the walk
  • Counting strides
  • Balance of the horse and rider through transitions and turns
    • Center of gravity
    • Behind vs ahead of the motion

To complete Level 1, the rider must be able to complete the following requirements:

  • Approach, halter and lead the horse correctly and safely (haltering can be assisted at this level)
  • Assist in grooming and tacking of the horse
  • Mount and dismount with control and without disturbing the horse (can be assisted)
  • Ride at the walk with good, basic position and control
  • Halt from the walk on command
  • Ride large circles and figure 8 patterns at the walk
  • Change direction at the walk (half turn & change through the middle)
  • Ride around and over obstacles at the walk with good control and steering
  • Ride in a balanced two-point position at the halt and the walk
  • Name the four basic aids and practice using them to control the horse

In Level 2, the student will continue to develop the control learned in Level 1, with an emphasis on a balanced seat, independent hands, and use of all four natural aids. The student will also learn to control the horse safely and effectively through the trot.

This level is split into two sections: on and off lunge line. Depending on the student’s age and/or size, the lunge line may be necessary until strength and balance develops naturally with age. By the end of this level, the student will be able to trot with good control and a balanced position, either on (Level 2-A) or off (Level 2-B) the lunge line.

Level 2A Lesson Topics:

  • Lunge line trotting
  • Sitting the trot
  • Asking for the trot
  • Trot-walk-stop transitions
    • Staying with the motion
  • Turning at the trot into the circle
  • Half halt at the trot
  • Posting at the trot
  • Two-point at the trot (English only)
  • Sitting-posting-2-point transitions
  • Fast vs slow trot
  • Independent hands at the trot
  • Emergency stop at the trot

To complete Level 2A, the rider must be able to complete the following requirements:

  • Ride with good position and balance at the:
    • Walk
    •  Sitting trot
    • Posting trot
  • Halt on command without unnecessary roughness to the horse at both the walk and trot
  • Half-halt at the trot to control speed
  • Ride through walk-trot-stop transitions with good control, quiet hands, and balanced seat
  • Shorten and lengthen reins correctly in context and on command
  • Maintain quiet, independent hands at the sitting and posting trot
  • Demonstrate good position and balance in the half-seat position at the walk and trot (English only)

Level 2B Lesson Topics:

  • Off lunge line trotting
  • Loose rein vs contact
  • Trot-walk-stop transitions
  • Fast vs slow trot – lengthening / shortening stride at the trot
  • Leading vs direct rein
  • Circles and turns at the trot
  • Correct diagonal at the trot
  • Changing direction at the trot
  • Balance of the horse and rider through transitions and turns at the trot
  • Basic figures and patterns at the trot (reverses, figure eights, serpentines)
  • Obstacle courses utilizing walk-trot transitions
  • Inside vs outside bend
  • Dropping and finding stirrups
  • Hands free trotting on lunge line

To complete Level 2B, the rider must be able to complete the following requirements:

  • Mastered Level 2A requirements
  • Post on the correct diagonal both directions independently around the arena
  • Ride at least twice around the arena at a trot without breaking the gait
  • Ride simple reverses and circles at the trot without breaking the gait
  • Change diagonal when changing direction across the middle or along the diagonal
  • Ride a simple pattern at the trot with good control, quiet hands, and a balanced seat

In Level 3, the student will further refine control of the horse through the walk and trot. The student will work on balance, a quiet and effective seat, quiet, independent hands, and further control of the horse through all gaits. In Level 3, the student will learn to control the horse safely through the canter. By the end of this level, the student will be able to canter around the arena with good control and a balanced position and will have started utilizing different aids to effect lateral movements.

Level 3 Lesson Topics:

  • Learning to canter on lunge line
    • Preparing for the canter (balance, position, aids)
    • Asking for the canter
    • Sitting the canter
    • Canter transitions
  • Canter off lunge line
  • Canter transitions
  • Circles at the canter
  • Canter leads and how to ask for them
  • How to check lead
  • Balance at the canter
  • Lengthening vs shortening stride at the canter
  • Half-seat at the canter
  • Walk-trot-canter patterns and obstacle courses
  • Schooling figures at the walk-trot-canter
  • Pre-jumping exercises/patterns

To complete Level 3, the rider must be able to complete the following requirements:

  • Ride with good position, balance and control at the:
    • Walk, with and without stirrups
    • Sitting trot with and without stirrups
    • Posting trot on correct diagonal, demonstrating change of diagonals
    • Half-seat or standing position (if Western)
  • Canter in both directions on the correct lead, identifying lead
  • Demonstrate and explain the following aids: Leading rein, direct rein, indirect rein, neck rein, pulley rein, leg at the girth, leg behind the girth, weight (seat)
  • Show proper form and advanced control while riding through the following movements:
    • Circle at the sitting trot
    • Figure 8, serpentines, and changes of direction at the posting trot
    • Transitions: walk to trot, walk to canter, trot to stop, canter to walk
    • Ride a pattern or course at the trot demonstrating advanced control and precision

By Level 4, the student has a good, working knowledge of how to control a horse using all four aids through all of the gaits. Level 4 is intended to refine this knowledge and hone in on more advanced skills, such as lateral movements, working through problem behaviors, and starting down the path of specific disciplines. By the end of this level, the student will have the knowledge and experience necessary to pursue specialized disciplines and competitions.

Level 4 Lesson Topics:

  • Artificial aids
  • Indirect rein, pully rein, neck rein and bearing rein
  • Schooling figures with lightness, coordination of aids, suppleness
  • Balance: working, extension, collection at all gaits
  • Turn on the forehand
  • Turn on the haunch
  • Shoulder in / out
  • Pivots
  • Rollbacks
  • Leg yields
  • Side passing
  • Stop from the lope using weight aids
  • Simple lead changes
  • Small cross rails
  • Flying changes
  • Trail rides
  • No stirrup work

To complete Level 4, the rider must be able to complete the following requirements:

  • Shows correct form, smooth and effective control, good balance and correct use of aids while:
    • At the walk on simple contact, a loose rein, and while lengthening the stride at the walk
    • At the trot while at a working trot, medium trot, and extended trot
    • At the canter while demonstrating simple changes of leads on a figure 8 or across diagonal
    • Demonstrating lateral movements such as: turn on the haunch, turn on the forehand, leg yield and side pass
    • Executing a quick halt from any gate
    • Transitioning from one gait to another promptly, smoothly and on command
  • Rides through turns and circles with the horse balanced and bending correctly
  • Explains and demonstrates (1) direct flexion, (2) correcting a faulty head set, and (3) proper use of artificial aids (crop, whip, spurs)
  • Rides an arena test, course or pattern with precision

sample arena tests