Have License, Will Teach

Certification programs for riding instructors are popping up all over the country. Here's a look at the pros and cons of getting certified.

It’s ironic, really. Most states require beauticians, plumbers and realtors to be licensed before they can cut your hair, unstop your sink or sell your house. But without so much as a governmental by-your-leave, any one of those folks can hang out a shingle declaring themselves a riding instructor and put a five-year-old child on a 1,000-pound animal with a brain the size of a walnut, and send him cantering off down the trail or around a jumping arena!

Which may be why there’s a growing trend in this country to seek out riding instructors with credentials. And why, with typical American ingenuity and resourcefulness, so many different certification programs—with as many different requirements and areas of emphasis—have popped up. We’ll take a look at them in a moment, but first, what’s in it for you?

Plenty. Certification…

• validates your knowledge and ability and demonstrates to customers (and employers) that you have been evaluated by, and are committed to, a respected industry standard;

• shows you care about your professional development (and the well-being and development of your students and their horses);

• offers access to a dazzling array of benefits, among them, continuing education courses, networking with your peers, financial aid, group newsletters and magazines (many of which contain articles about instruction, problem-solving, client-relationships, etc.), legal support, advertising, even discounts on liability insurance and educational materials;

• may give you a degree of protection in a court of law, since it shows—along with membership in horse organizations and careful documentation of teaching and stable management protocols—your ongoing concern for the health and welfare of your clients and horses;

• might well be “the finger in the dike” that demonstrates to government and insurers alike that the horse industry, which knows better than they what it needs, is actively taking steps to monitor itself and set safety and educational standards.

But there’s a downside, right? Sure, and it’s a dandy called time and money. And that goes double if you already have a degree of respect in the industry and a thriving teaching, training or boarding business that makes you wonder why you should bother. Besides, you may have to shortchange your clients and your bottom line while you’re paying to travel to and attend workshops, seminars and tests, as well as losing competitive opportunities and teaching and training income.

As bitter a pill as that may be to swallow, no one would claim those disadvantages outweigh the considerable advantages. In fact, says LaJuan Skiver, executive director of the Certified Horsemanship Association, you have to keep the whole thing in perspective. “You’re making a commitment to furthering your education,” says Skiver, “and anytime you do that, you have to look at it as professional development. And I would hope that no one would think that time or money spent in professional development was a downside.”

Which program is for you? That depends. While this listing is by no means 100 percent complete (some breed and local organizations are said to be developing certification programs), it is representative of what’s out there. And it is a good place to start. As you’ll see, the offerings vary considerably when it comes to standards and stringency, and emphasize everything from safety to stable management. Some are for “gateway” or entry-level instructors; others for more advanced. And while a few are doggedly sport-specific, most certify across a broad spectrum of equestrian activities.


(512) 488-2220;

AAHS conducts group and individual safety certification clinics for riding instructors, camp personnel and others interested in horsemanship safety. The clinics are 40 hours long and are usually taught over a four- or five-day period. The emphasis is on legal liabilities, horsemanship skills, safety and emergency procedures and rapidly assuring the safety of riders by teaching a balanced seat to beginners. In addition to participating in the 40-hour clinic and passing a written examination, a candidate must show current certification in CPR and first aid.

Six types of certification are offered through AAHS’s program, including Safety-Certified Riding Instructor, Safety-Certified Riding Instructor—Basic, Safety-Certified Assistant Riding Instructor, Equestrian Safety Supervisor, Safety-Certified Trail Guide and Safety Clinic Participant.

The benefits are individualized certification clinics held year round, a sliding fee scale for clinics, access to safety-oriented educational materials, attorney referrals for horse accident cases and a quarterly newsletter.


(941) 948-3232;

Established in 1984 by the American Riding Instructors Association (ARIA), ARICP recognizes and certifies “outstanding teachers of horseback riding who instruct their students in a safe, knowledgeable and professional manner.” Certification entails evaluating a candidate’s qualifications and teaching ability through written and oral testing and review of a video-taped lesson.

There are three levels of certification in combined training, distance riding, dressage, driving, hunt seat, mounted patrol, open jumping, recreational riding, saddle seat, side saddle, stock seat and, lastly, stable management.

The benefits include a listing in the ARICP Directory and on ARICP’s Website, “Riding Instructor” magazine, access to affordable liability and farm insurance, and an annual seminar with many of the nation’s top horseman.


(831) 659-5696;

The program is open to members of the California Dressage Society (CDS) who teach regularly and hold U.S. Dressage Federation bronze, silver or gold medals. (CDS members without medals may join as “associate members.”) While not a certifying organization, APTI encourages networking and continuing educational opportunities that upgrade teaching skills among dressage professionals. CPR is required and protective headgear encouraged. Sixty hours of ongoing education must be taken every three years to retain membership.

Benefits of the program include a listing on the CDS Website and in the CDS Directory; also education on such subjects as professional burnout.


(845) 758-1964;

The British Horse Society’s certification methods are recognized in 32 countries, but until 1998, if you wanted to earn those three little letters, BHS, after your name, you had to go to Britain. Now the program has come to the U.S. with its comprehensive approach to theoretical aspects of horse care, veterinary care, stable management, tack, grooming, shoeing, feeding, minor ailments, fitness, diet and, of course, teaching. According to Jane Armour, the most senior BHS instructor in this country, “As you get higher up, you can diversify into any of the disciplines, but your base is strong.”

BHS offers clinics and one-day exams in Stage 1 (a warm-up), Stage 2 (you’re a competent groom), Stage 3 (you can manage a barn), Preliminary Instructor (capable in stable management, dealing with clients, interpersonal skills, staff relationships, a group flat or jumping lesson, a longe or lead lesson) and Assistant Instructor (all the above plus the ability to manage a small riding school).

Among the benefits is a 10 percent discount in New York for insurance (check for availability in other states).



CHA has been certifying instructors since 1967, and has a membership base of more than 4,000, with roughly 700 to 1,000 new instructors certified annually in clinics throughout the U.S. It also has programs in Canada, Australia and the U.K.

It offers certification in seven levels of English and Western arena instruction, trail guiding, instruction of riders with disabilities and seasonal equestrian staff. Emphasis is on safety, horsemanship and ability, teaching technique, group control, and responsibility and professionalism. Candidates must teach at least four practice lessons and undergo a riding evaluation, a written test and participate in workshops on stable management, teaching techniques, professionalism and herd management.

The benefits are continuing education workshops, annual conferences, a quarterly magazine featuring articles on health, well-being, horse care and ways to improve instruction, significant discount on books, videos, program supplies, ASTM-SEI ap­proved helmets and instructors’ liability insurance. The Website features products pages, online registration, clinic schedules and an e-magazine.



The 23-year-old, 500-member HSA keeps its mission statement short and sweet: “To educate equestrians in safe horsemanship and show an ongoing concern for the health and welfare of clients and horses.” HSA was an early advocate of protective headgear. “Since 80 percent of riders are entry-level,” says Director Steve Bennett, “HSA’s focus is the entry-level instructor.”

They offer training and certification for entry-level English or Western instructors, with subsequent access to more advanced educational opportunities.

HSA’s benefits are a quarterly newsletter with teaching tips and product info, access to low-cost liability insurance, instructor manuals and books. Apprenticeship programs are in the works and there are plans to create a Website list of instructors.


(703) 779-0440;

The USEA (formerly the United States Combined Training Association) is the latest discipline-specific organization to take the plunge into national certification for its instructors. The program has been developing since 1999 and hopes to be operating in 2002. The focus will be eventing’s unique link between flatwork/dressage and jumping, with stable management, safety and professionalism. The program may be eventing-heavy, but Sue Hershey, co-chair of the USEA Instructors Certification Program, says, “Anyone who teaches a combination of flatwork and jumping, even if he doesn’t do cross-country, will benefit.”

USEA?will offer nationwide work­shops and examinations at several levels. In addition to upgrading knowledge and skills, other benefits include access to low-cost liability insurance for certified instructors, advertising and a listing on the USEA Website. In addition, there is an annual meeting and a newsletter.


(402) 434-8550 or (860) 487-1686 to reach Melanie Tenney, liaison for the USDF Instructor Trainer Council;

This 11-year-old sports-specific certification program is based, much like the German and British systems, on a logical, step-by-step progression of training and instruction that applies to every horse and every rider. According to Tenney, “Certification is strengthening and standardizing American dressage, and maximizing the way our average amateur experiences the sport. When a client rides with a USDF-certified instructor, she can be confident that she’s working with someone who’s knowledgeable and teaches systematically.”

It offers workshops and tests in two categories—Training through Second Level or Training through Fourth. A third category—through Grand Prix—is in the works. Subjects include group and individual teaching, longeing of horse and rider on a horse, riding and written and oral tests on horse management and theory.

The benefits include comprehensive candidate guidelines, which are available on the Website, precertification “shake-out” tests, instructional materials, a newsletter for certified instructors, e-mail list-serve, a listing on the Website, continuing education opportunities, financial aid for workshops, testings and training, and multiple test sites across the country.






Oops! We could not locate your form.