Pencil drawing of a hunter/jumper equestrian on her horse.

Bespoke Learning, AI, & ‘On The Fly’ Design.

Personalized, Individualized, Bespoke, or good old fashion Custom all imply created by the hands of a human as opposed to factory machine manufactured. As an Instructional Designer, I am feeling like I am spending as much time sussing out how to handle the rise of generative AI as actually creating ‘good learning’. At one point I was actually told to ‘just use ChatGPT’ to create a course that would be sold publicly as a learning product. Right away I was smacked in the face by the ethical use of AI.

Think back – just as a tailor would custom fit men and women’s clothing as far back as when the term bespoke originated in the 1800’s, effective face to face teachers, trainers, and coaches have cultivated a knack for tailoring education to the audience or individual.

Why? How? Because, as the TED talk commandments state, they have learned by being considerate, curious and engaged. Since they know that their audience is the hero, they have payed attention to shifting their mode of communication and, hopefully, incorporating different approaches or exercises according to how well the learner (audience) is reacting. In face to face trainings, this can be a simple as reading the expressions on people’s faces and making a shift, “on the fly”, so to speak.

Bespoke ‘On the Fly’ Design requires creativity and openness to circumstance.

Over time, lecturers, trainers, and coaches should, through reflection, feedback, and research accumulate a huge pool of clever techniques to meet any one where they are.

Ask such an educator to try to encapsulate what they do into eLearning, especially an asynchronous, self-directed course, and the practitioner almost always views the task as trying to tame an unmanageable beast. There are simply too many variables.

When I designed instruction as a horse trainer before I became a trained Instructional Designer…

…I was constantly designing lesson plans ‘on the fly’ dependent on surroundings plus the mental state of both horse and rider. No matter what the higher level ‘curriculum’ was, it was ALWAYS critical to take in the current circumstance and adjust accordingly. For this reason I developed my toolkit of practical exercises that I could use accordingly.

To help keep myself and my students grounded, I created a four level assessment system (rewards included!) and practice handbook. This was especially helpful when students were itching to jump their first fence before they were ready. Thankfully, this intrinsic motivation kept them working hard at the foundational skills required to safely make it to the next level.

The material was derived from commonly accepted safety, best practice, and show competition standards from the long established Pony Club & 4-H Manuals along with books written by notable legends such as Chef d’équipe of the US Equestrian team and others. Most, if not all, were exercises I had incorporated into my lessons at one time or the other. After I finished, I had 10 pages of practices to refer to when I needed to refresh my lesson designs. The exercise of creating this, along with a multitude of coaching experiences, provided me with a mental catalog that I would refer to in the moment during a lesson.

That is my human version of a searchable database of information, a core foundation of necessary skills & competencies surrounded by a myriad of practical ways to acquire novice, intermediate, and advanced levels of mastery.

But, for all of my experience, as a self-directed learner and ID professional, I am feeling both inspired and challenged by using generative AI. The best way I could ‘get to know it better’ is to use it, especially for subject areas where I DO have the expertise to analyze the results. I more or less consider myself to have a novice/intermediate level of experience and have read plenty about the tech in the past several years but, lately, it almost seems that AI is evolving so fast that even those in the trenches are able to keep pace. SO what to do? Conduct a personal study as a self-assigned practice exercise to learn more.

The following is a case study that may help you define the line between the benefit consulting/collaborating with AI (which we know can mistakes) vs. out of the box lessons vs. human interaction (also having been know to be wrong a time or two 🧐).

Note: It may not be necessary to read the details of each response so I built them into accordions. When you see an orange header, click to read the full response.

Case Study: ChatGPT – Lesson/Exercise suggestions for a hunter/jumper equestrian coach: Conducted on May 16th, 2024 by Patricia Stitson, Instructional Designer (ID) and Subject Matter Expert (SME).

Case Study Step 1: Introductory knowledge

Approach: Use two prompts from different perspectives understanding that the answer to the second prompt would be influence by the first.

Prompt 1: Pretend you are a hunter/jumper equestrian coach. Your student is having trouble keeping their heels down when their horse jumps over a fence. What would you do? What type of exercises could you use with the student?

Prompt 2: What would you recommend to help a student create a strong, stable, & effective lower leg?

Prompt 1 response: As a hunter/jumper equestrian coach, helping a student keep their heels down during a jump is essential for their balance, stability, and overall effectiveness in riding. Here’s a comprehensive approach to address this issue:

Explanation and Understanding

  1. Biomechanics Education: Explain the importance of keeping heels down. It increases stability, aids in proper leg position, and helps absorb the shock during landing.
  2. Equipment Check: Ensure the stirrup length is correct. Stirrups that are too long or too short can affect the rider’s ability to keep their heels down.

Exercises to Improve Heel Position

  1. Two-Point Position (Half Seat) Practice:
    • Practice holding the two-point position at the walk, trot, and canter. Emphasize pushing the weight into the heels.
    • Gradually introduce small jumps while maintaining this position.
  2. Hill Work:
    • Riding up and down gentle slopes encourages the rider to sink their weight into their heels naturally.
    • This also helps build leg strength and balance.
  3. Stirrup-less Work:
    • Riding without stirrups improves overall leg position and strength. Start with flatwork and progress to small jumps if the rider is competent and balanced.
  4. Cavaletti Exercises:
    • Set up a series of cavaletti (raised poles) to encourage the rider to maintain a steady leg and heel position as the horse steps over.
    • This can be done at the trot and canter.
  5. Jumping Grids:
    • Create a grid of small jumps (crossrails, verticals) to focus on position rather than height.
    • Repetition helps the rider build muscle memory while keeping the jumps low reduces the risk.
  6. Gymnastics Lines:
    • Set up a line of bounces or one-stride combinations. The close placement of jumps forces the rider to maintain a steady lower leg and heel position.

Strengthening and Flexibility Exercises

  1. Off-Horse Exercises:
    • Calf stretches and strengthening exercises, such as calf raises, can improve flexibility and strength.
    • Squats and lunges help build overall leg strength and stability.
  2. Balance Exercises:
    • Use a balance board or similar equipment to enhance balance and core strength.

Drills for Muscle Memory

  1. Heels Down Drill:
    • Have the student ride at the walk, trot, and canter focusing solely on pushing their heels down.
    • Use visual aids or verbal cues to remind them regularly.
  2. Practice with Feedback:
    • Use video feedback to show the rider their position. Often, seeing the issue can help them correct it.
    • Mirrors in the arena can provide real-time visual feedback.

Positive Reinforcement

  1. Progressive Goals:
    • Set small, achievable goals for each session to build confidence.
    • Celebrate improvements, even if they are small.
  2. Visualization:
    • Encourage the rider to visualize their rides, focusing on keeping heels down through the entire jump sequence.

By combining these exercises and techniques, your student will gradually develop the muscle memory and strength needed to maintain their heels down during jumps, leading to improved performance and safety.

Prompt 2 response: Creating a strong, stable, and effective lower leg is essential for rider security, control, and overall performance in hunter/jumper equestrian sports. Here are several recommendations and exercises to help achieve this:

On-Horse Exercises

  1. Correct Positioning and Awareness
    • Proper Stirrup Length: Ensure the stirrups are adjusted correctly. They should allow the rider’s heels to be just below the level of the stirrup iron when sitting in the saddle with their legs hanging naturally.
    • Ankle Flexion: Encourage the rider to flex their ankles so their heels are down, and their toes are slightly turned out. The rider should feel their weight in their heels.
  2. Two-Point Position (Half Seat)
    • Practice maintaining the two-point position at the walk, trot, and canter. Emphasize keeping the lower leg stable and heels down.
    • Gradually introduce small jumps while maintaining the two-point position to build stability and confidence.
  3. Stirrup-less Riding
    • Riding without stirrups at the walk, trot, and canter helps strengthen the rider’s legs and improves balance.
    • Focus on keeping the lower leg in position and not gripping with the knees.
  4. Cavaletti and Pole Work
    • Ride over poles and cavaletti at the trot and canter to develop steadiness and strength in the lower leg. This also helps with rhythm and balance.
    • Use a variety of distances and configurations to challenge the rider.
  5. Jumping Grids and Gymnastics
    • Set up grids with a series of small jumps to encourage a secure lower leg. This repetitive jumping helps develop muscle memory and stability.
    • Incorporate bounces and one-stride combinations to require the rider to maintain a strong, steady leg.

Off-Horse Exercises

  1. Leg Strengthening Exercises
    • Calf Raises: Stand on the edge of a step with heels hanging off and raise up onto the toes, then slowly lower the heels below the step level. This exercise builds calf strength and flexibility.
    • Wall Sits: Lean against a wall with knees at a 90-degree angle, holding the position to build quadriceps strength.
    • Squats and Lunges: Perform squats and lunges to strengthen the entire leg, including the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps.
  2. Balance and Core Exercises
    • Balance Board: Use a balance board or Bosu ball to improve core strength and overall balance, which translates to better stability in the saddle.
    • Planks: Hold plank positions to strengthen the core, which supports a stable lower leg position.
  3. Flexibility Exercises
    • Calf Stretches: Regularly stretch the calves to maintain flexibility and improve the ability to keep heels down.
    • Hamstring and Quadriceps Stretches: Stretch these muscles to ensure overall leg flexibility, which aids in maintaining a proper riding position.

Riding Drills and Techniques

  1. Visualization and Mental Practice
    • Encourage riders to visualize themselves riding with a strong, stable lower leg. Mental rehearsal can help reinforce physical practice.
    • Use videos of top riders to show examples of strong, effective lower leg positions.
  2. Frequent Checks and Corrections
    • Regularly check and correct the rider’s position during lessons. Use verbal reminders and physical adjustments as needed.
    • Use tools such as video feedback or mirrors to help riders see and correct their lower leg position.
  3. Progressive Training
    • Set incremental goals for improvement in lower leg strength and stability.
    • Track progress and celebrate small achievements to keep the rider motivated and focused.

By integrating these on-horse and off-horse exercises, along with consistent practice and reinforcement, riders can develop a strong, stable, and effective lower leg. This foundation is crucial for overall riding success and safety.

SME Critique:

I was impressed with the high level organization and pointers that ChatGPT provided. From both the perspective of a H/J Trainer SME and an ID SME the responses reflected the different approaches set up within the prompt. The first prompt was presented as the challenge of keeping the heels down and second is asking how to develop of lower leg stability. However, it is clear that the focal point of “heels down” was established by the first.

These responses caused me to reflect back on my years as in a horseback riding instructor and as a rider. Back then, I wish I have been more aware of how easy it is to get into the rut of drilling to ‘fix’ a problem ( I noted those instructions in orange), rather than taking the more formative route of guiding the rider through building (and maintaining) strength and stability which lead to having a more effective lower leg. So, in this way, using my ID competency of reflection, I learned from working with ChatGPT that there were times I may have gotten too fixated on drilling.

From a seasoned H/J coaching point of view, the suggested training exercises were not explained well enough. If I were using these ChatGPT responses to create instruction for myself or others as a non-expert, I would not be armed with knowledge of certain subtleties nor a broader perspective on body position in general

Through this part of the case study exercise, I learned that I felt confident using ChatGPT at the beginning of the workflow to learn about some foundational techniques but then was compelled to seek out examples of human-lead instruction. ChatGPT provided the bricks but I needed an artisan to show me how to build with them.

For example, this video shows a ‘master’ coach working with two riders performing an exercise (that ChatGPT did suggest) with the goal of “Creating a Strong, Stable, & Effective Lower Leg.” Watching this, even a lay person would be educated on the ‘why and how’ whereas ChatGPT only provided the ‘what’ and would require more prompts to get down to what is explained in this 6 minute video.

Within a higher level curriculum based on what ChatGPT delivered, I could then provide a micro lesson under a module called “Cavaletti Work for Stability” based on this video or something similar.

At a glance conclusion: While using ChatGPT could expedite my process working with a SME, ultimately it would take a three way collaboration (AI, ID, & SME) to ensure efficacy.

Equestrian Masterclass NOËLLE FLOYD, Mar 4, 2021

Case Study Step 2: Custom Tailored Instruction

As a horseback riding instructor I noticed that in the video demonstration the rider’s elbows were slightly stiff. I decided to ask ChatGPT to help me address this challenge. This would further test the bot’s ability to create more ‘human’ bespoke level instruction.

Prompt 1: My rider seems to get her heels down well and holds her upper body well over cavalettis but then her elbows get stiff. 👈 Since we were within the same string I started presenting the issue as a matter of fact.

Prompt 2: Do you have an exercise that would help her keep elastic elbows while keeping her heels down and core strong specifically during the cavelletti work? 👈 Since we were within the same string, I just asked for a specific exercise to use with ‘her’.

Stiff elbows can disrupt the connection between the rider’s hands and the horse’s mouth, leading to a less effective and less comfortable ride for both the rider and the horse. Here are some strategies and exercises to help your rider develop softer, more elastic elbows:

Understanding the Issue

Explain to the rider the importance of having elastic elbows, which act as shock absorbers, allowing for better communication and a smoother ride. Stiff elbows can cause a rigid connection and may lead to discomfort or resistance from the horse.

On-Horse Exercises

  1. Awareness and Relaxation
    • Check-in Points: Periodically ask the rider to check and relax their elbows while riding. Use verbal reminders like “soft elbows” or “think elastic.”
    • Shoulder Rolls: Encourage the rider to perform gentle shoulder rolls while walking to help release tension in the arms and elbows.
  2. Reins Exercises
    • One-Handed Riding: Have the rider ride with one hand on the reins and the other resting on their thigh. This can help them feel the difference in elasticity and encourage them to soften their elbows.
    • Holding a Crop or Whip: Ask the rider to hold a short crop or whip across their thumbs while holding the reins. This helps keep the hands steady and the elbows soft.
  3. Transitions and Half-Halts
    • Frequent Transitions: Incorporate frequent transitions between gaits and within gaits (e.g., from working trot to collected trot). This helps the rider practice maintaining soft elbows through changes in movement.
    • Half-Halts: Practice half-halts to encourage the rider to use their core and legs more, reducing the tendency to stiffen the elbows.
  4. Circles and Serpentines
    • Riding circles and serpentines at various gaits helps the rider practice maintaining a consistent, elastic connection with the horse through bends and changes of direction.
  5. Jumping Exercises
    • Small Grids: Set up small grids of cavaletti or low jumps. Encourage the rider to focus on maintaining a soft, following hand throughout the exercises.
    • Rein Release: Practice crest releases or automatic releases over small jumps to help the rider develop the feel of following the horse’s mouth without stiffness.

Off-Horse Exercises

  1. Arm and Shoulder Flexibility
    • Shoulder Stretches: Perform shoulder stretches to improve flexibility and reduce tension. Examples include arm circles, shoulder rolls, and the “thread the needle” stretch.
    • Arm Swings: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and swing arms gently forward and backward to loosen the shoulder and elbow joints.
  2. Strengthening Exercises
    • Resistance Band Work: Use resistance bands to strengthen the muscles around the shoulder and elbow joints. Exercises like band pull-aparts and shoulder external rotations can help.
  3. Core Strengthening
    • Core Workouts: Strengthening the core can help the rider rely less on their hands for balance, which can reduce elbow stiffness. Exercises like planks, crunches, and Pilates are beneficial.

Visualization and Mental Practice

  1. Visualize Soft Elbows
    • Encourage the rider to visualize having soft, elastic elbows that move naturally with the horse’s movement. Mental rehearsal can be very effective in changing physical habits.
  2. Video Feedback
    • Use video recordings of the rider to show them when their elbows become stiff. Seeing the issue can help them understand and correct it.

Progressive Improvement

  1. Set Specific Goals
    • Set small, achievable goals for each session focused on maintaining soft elbows. Gradually increase the complexity of the tasks as the rider improves.
  2. Consistent Reminders
    • Provide consistent, gentle reminders during lessons. Phrases like “soft elbows,” “think elastic,” or “follow the motion” can be helpful cues.

By incorporating these strategies and exercises into your training program, your rider can develop softer, more elastic elbows, leading to better communication with the horse and overall improved riding performance.

Certainly! Combining cavaletti work with exercises that promote elastic elbows, strong heels, and a stable core can be highly effective. Here’s a detailed exercise that addresses all these aspects:

Cavaletti Exercise for Elastic Elbows, Heels Down, and Strong Core


  1. Cavaletti Placement: Set up a line of 4-6 cavalettis spaced about 4 feet apart for trotting. Ensure they are at a low height to start with, so the rider can focus on their position without worrying about the height of the obstacles.
  2. Riding Space: Ensure you have a straight, level path leading to and from the cavaletti to allow the rider to prepare and recover their position.

Exercise Steps:

  1. Warm-Up:
    • Start with a warm-up that includes walking, trotting, and cantering, focusing on the rider’s position.
    • Incorporate transitions and circles to ensure the rider is balanced and relaxed.
  2. Initial Passes Over Cavaletti:
    • Have the rider approach the cavaletti at a steady trot.
    • Instruct the rider to maintain their two-point position (half-seat) over the cavaletti to encourage a secure lower leg and strong core. Emphasize keeping the heels down and weight in the heels.
  3. Focus on Elbows:
    • As the rider trots over the cavaletti, remind them to think about keeping their elbows soft and following the horse’s movement. Use a verbal cue like “soft elbows” as they approach the cavaletti.
    • Encourage the rider to feel the movement through their hands and allow their elbows to act as shock absorbers, following the horse’s head and neck.
  4. Add a Visual Aid:
    • Place a small, lightweight object (like a soft toy or a bean bag) on the rider’s forearm, just above the wrist. The goal is for the rider to keep the object in place by maintaining a steady, elastic connection without gripping tightly.
    • This visual aid can help the rider focus on keeping their elbows soft and following.
  5. Core Engagement:
    • Remind the rider to engage their core muscles throughout the exercise. They should think about drawing their belly button towards their spine to maintain stability.
    • Use phrases like “engage your core” or “strong center” to keep this focus.
  6. Repeat and Reinforce:
    • Have the rider repeat the passes over the cavaletti several times, each time focusing on heels down, soft elbows, and strong core.
    • After each pass, provide immediate feedback, highlighting what they did well and what to focus on in the next pass.
  7. Vary the Exercise:
    • Change the configuration slightly by adjusting the distance between the cavaletti or adding a few more in a row.
    • Incorporate changes in pace within the trot (e.g., from a working trot to a collected trot) to challenge the rider’s ability to maintain soft elbows, heels down, and core stability through different speeds.

Tips for Success:

  • Consistent Reminders: During the exercise, give consistent verbal reminders about each focus area (heels, elbows, core) as they approach the cavaletti.
  • Positive Reinforcement: Praise the rider for maintaining good form, even if only for a few strides, to build their confidence and awareness.
  • Video Feedback: If possible, record the exercise and review it with the rider. Point out moments when their form is correct and discuss areas for improvement.

By consistently practicing this exercise, the rider will develop the muscle memory and awareness needed to maintain elastic elbows, strong heels, and a stable core during cavaletti work and beyond.

SME Critique:

ChatGPT is missing quite a bit within both responses especially from a learner centric design strategy perspective. The ‘what’ framework again is great but, without expert knowledge, it would be difficult to know how to teach any of the exercises correctly. For example, there are a million ways to incorrectly perform a half-halt which is one of the recommended exercises.

At this level, many more questions would need to be asked to get to the how and why knowledge provided by a seasoned professional in order to create truly personalized learning, thereby making it less and less efficient and effective than working with a human SME.

More to come as far as a deeper dive.

What do you think about using AI to create self-directed study either for yourself or others?

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