Please excuse my absenteeism from blogging for the last few weeks- I’ve been swamped at work training our new instructor and preparing for my PATH International on-site workshop and certification!

As most of you know, I work as equine manager/instructor for a mid-size therapeutic riding center. While I feel very comfortable managing the horses, I’ve always felt a little behind the curve as an instructor. I’ve taught riding lessons to able-bodied typical people before, but have zero background or experience in helping people with special needs outside of my current job. I’m lucky to have a great mentor in my boss and have learned a lot from other instructors that have worked at our center and as I’ve taught therapeutic lessons for the last year or so, I’ve become more confident and competent in what I’m doing.

PATH International is the industry’s professional organization which accredits centers and certifies instructors. The certification process is convoluted, expensive, and time consuming but generally required for people who desire to teach special needs individuals. (E.g. most TRCs will not hire an instructor who is not PATH-certified.) This is the process for becoming a certified instructor:

  • Pay PATH a membership fee.
  • Pay PATH a fee to begin the instructor-certification process.
  • Take two online, self-study tests: one on PATH’s standards (i.e. contraindications for riding, safety while riding) and one on general horse knowledge and pass both with a 90% or better.
  • Find a professional horse person (such as a person with an equine degree or a veterinarian or farrier) to sign off on a horsemanship skills checklist, which includes skills like picking out hooves and identifying lameness.
  • Obtain CPR and First Aid certification.
  • Mail aforementioned items to PATH, who will send you an official instructor-in-training letter.
  • Find a PATH-certified instructor to be your mentor.
  • Teach 25 hours of group riding lessons to people with special needs under the supervision of the mentor. The mentor must verify with PATH that you actually taught these lessons.
  • Pay an exorbitant fee for an on-site workshop/certification. The site will send you a packet of paperwork.
  • Fill out and return the paperwork, which includes your resume as an equestrian, a personal reference, a professional reference, three essay questions regarding your teaching philosophy and methods, and liability releases.
  • Travel to the site of the workshop/certification and spend 2.5 days learning about various teaching techniques, how to manage volunteers, horse selection, disabilities, and lesson plan writing.
  • Execute a riding test on one of the horses at the site.
  • Demonstrate your ability to teach by writing a lesson plan, teaching a 20-minute lesson to a group of riders, and evaluation your own performance.
  • Pass or fail!
(The entire process took me about a year; I tried to finish it up in about 6 months, but one workshop/certification I signed up for was canceled and another never received my registration form and payment.)
Last week I traveled to Equest, one of the nation’s premier TRCs. It’s about a 5 hour drive from where I live. I didn’t find the workshop very beneficial, as I’d learned most of what was taught through hands-on experience at my job or through my mentor. I nailed the riding test; Equest has an outstanding group of horses and gave me a very well-trained Canadian warmblood gelding to ride. (I fed him about 5 apples afterward, I was so relieved.) The teaching test had me worried, as my two assigned riders were much more capable than what I’m used to teaching. I also don’t do much in the way of lesson plans. Fortunately, I had a fairly good lesson and was pleased to find out I’d passed both components of the certification test.
So, yours truly is now a PATH-certified therapeutic riding instructor. While I’m glad for the official-ness of certification, I sort of think it was an expensive time-suck. I certainly believe that people who teach riding lessons to people with disabilities need training and some sort of metric to measure if they’re good at it or not, I don’t know that this is the best way to do it. I also don’t have any other suggestions.
At any rate, now I’m certified! If you’re interested in teaching TR lessons, I definitely encourage you to find a PATH-accredited center and visit. Would I encourage you to go get certified? Not unless you want to make it your career.