The Side Walker
Objective: Support the rider during grooming, riding, mounting and dismounting and help the rider guide their horse in following directions of the instructor as necessary.
The amount of support required is dependent on each rider.
Ability to hold your arm raised and out to the side for extended periods of time
Ability to adapt collaboratively and be flexible
Horse experience preferred
Help prepare horses for class (grooming and tacking), if necessary
Assist with rider support during mounting and dismounting as necessary
Walk next to the rider throughout the class, giving support as necessary
Help the rider follow directions given by the instructor
Estimated total hours: 2½ to two hours per class (more than one class can be done). Volunteers may assist in multiple lessons
*All new volunteers are required to participate as a “sidewalker” for a full 6-week lesson session before they may apply for “leader” training unless otherwise cleared by the instructor
Sidewalkers are the ones who normally have the most hands-on duties during therapeutic riding lessons. 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 sidewalker should help the student focus his/her attention on the instructor. Avoid unnecessary talking with either the rider or other volunteers. Input from too many directions is very confusing to anyone, and to riders who already have perceptual problems, it can be overwhelming. If two sidewalkers are working with one student, one should be the designated “talker” to avoid this situation. The ultimate goal for therapeutic riding is to encourage the rider to stretch and grow to be as independent as he or she can possibly be. You are at the rider’s side, so help the instructor to challenge the rider to the best of their ability.
At class time, check to see that your rider is prepared to ride. All riders must wear a safety helmet. Helmets will be fitted to each rider the first day of class and sizes recorded. Check to make sure that the rider’s helmet fits properly and that the chinstrap is fastened. Other safety equipment and therapy equipment will be handled by the instructor. Sidewalkers are to stay with their riders while the horses are led to the mounting area. It is 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.
Listen to the instructor’s directions so you can be ready to reinforce when necessary, BUT allow the rider plenty of time to process the information before you begin to assist. For example, if the instructor says, “Pull on the right rein towards me”, and the student seems confused, gently tap the right hand and say “right.” The instructor will guide you in how much reinforcement is needed. Do not offer any more support than the rider needs. Too much help inhibits the rider’s independence.
There are various ways to hold onto the rider without interfering: One common hold is the “arm-over-thigh” hold. The sidewalker grips the front of the saddle (flap or pommel depending on horse’s size) with the hand closest to the rider. 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. Be sure not to lean on the horse or rider since this pressure may imbalance the rider or irritate the horse. Remember, you are there to prevent the rider from falling off, not to hold the rider on.
Another common hold is the “ankle hold,” which is used for riders who need some support, but not as much as a thigh hold provides. The hand closest to the rider holds around the back of the ankle, helping to stabilize the lower leg.
There are many other holds, and even many ways to vary the holds mentioned above. When something other than a thigh hold or ankle hold is required, your instructor will let you know, and help ensure that you know how to perform the hold correctly.
Observe the rider with your front or side vision at all times. Never become so relaxed that you are not totally aware of the rider, horse, leader, instructor, and activities around you. When the rider is using body and leg aids and does not need to be supported, do not touch the horse, saddle, or pad since this may interfere with the aid applied by the rider. Use little strokes and tickles on shoulders or back to encourage good posture.
When you are ready for relief for your arm, ask the leader to move into the center to stop and trade sides, one at a time, with the other sidewalker.
If your rider falls, the leader will remain in charge of the horse. As a sidewalker, don’t just grab if a student starts slipping. Gently push the rider back into the right position. Sidewalkers are very important as they are constantly aware of the rider and what the rider is doing, and the safety of the rider depends on the sidewalker. If a fall does occur, remain calm and gently bring the rider to the ground. The instructor is trained to handle all situations, so stay with your rider and keep them immobile until the instructor can get there in case there are injuries that could be complicated by movement.