The following was written in February 2013 based on my experience getting certified August 2011 – March 2012, so it may not stay current as time goes on. My passion is helping people do things I had a hard time doing myself, so I hope this helps you! This is not an official PATH Intl. article, this is just my experience.
SO YOU WANT TO GET CERTIFIED…
There are lots of organization offering certifications:
- Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.) – focuses on teaching riding skills to people with disabilities, accredits centers and certifies instructors
- Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) – focuses on the mental health (psychotherapy and learning) side of equine assisted therapies, certifies mental health and equine specialist professionals
- The Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association (CanTRA) – therapeutic riding in Canada, certifies instructors
- American Hippotherapy Association (AHA) – focuses on physical, occupational and speech/language therapy that uses equine movement, credentials Certified Hippotherapy Clinical Specialists
This article will focus on PATH Intl. certification for their first level of certification the Registered Instructor.
IS IT FOR YOU?
Before you decide to get certified, think about the following.
Overview of the TR Instructor:
- trained in horsemanship (horse knowledge and riding)
- understand problems presented by each disability and are comfortable with them
- develop teaching techniques that accommodate special needs
- train horses specifically for disabled riders
- use special equipment to compensate for disabilities
- be concerned with safety factors unique to persons with disabilities
(Source: Engel, Barbara T., M.Ed, OTR. Article “Therapeutic Riding: Its Benefits, Professions and Divisions” from the book “Therapeutic Riding I Strategies for Instruction Part I”).
Job Description of the TR Instructor may include:
- teach private and group lessons to both persons of disabilities and able-bodied students
- stay on time with the schedule
- set up and clean up the barn before and after lessons
- manage the barn aisle and volunteers
- plan riders’ goals and objectives
- create lesson plans
- write progress notes
- assign horses and volunteers to riders
- communicate with parents
- perform new rider assessments
- monitor horse behavior and tack fit
- whatever else the barn decides!
- You are over 18 years old.
- You know about horses. This means you know about horse breeds, confirmation, behavior, grooming, tack, tacking, unsoundness, stable management, health, sickness, training, and handling.
- You can ride. This means you have correct riding posture and can walk, trot, canter, woah, back up, collect your horse, change rein across the diagonal, sit the trot, post the trot, identify if you are on the wrong posting diagonal and change it, and identify if you are the on the wrong canter lead and change it.
- You know about riding. This means you know horse safety, mounting, dismounting, correct posture, gaits, natural and artificial, aids, movements, ring figures, exercises, and games – and how to teach these things.
- You have some experience with therapeutic horseback riding (I would highly recommend volunteering at a PATH Intl. Accredited therapeutic riding center before diving into certification).
- You have some experience with people with disabilities.
- You have some experience teaching.
- You are not afraid to lead and talk to groups.
- You have good communication skills.
- You enjoy learning.
- You are willing to make mistakes and learn from them.
- You are willing to humble yourself to learn a new way of doing things (in particular the PATH Intl. methods for the safe and effective instructing of persons with disabilities).
- You have time to study and take lessons (in order to learn what you don’t know).
- You have money (in order to study and take lessons to learn what you don’t know).
- If you don’t meet any of these requirements, you are willing and have the time to improve in these areas. This may mean studying horse information, taking riding lessons, volunteering extra at a therapeutic riding barn, or saving up money for the certification process.
- Just because you don’t meet the above requirements doesn’t mean you can’t becomes a certified therapeutic riding instructor – it just means it will take you longer because you have more to learn!
- Understand that every person who starts this journey is either stronger in horse experience or in teaching & disabilities experience. Whichever one you are, focus your studies on learning more about what you don’t know, and take your time to do it right.
- If you have lots of experience teaching riding lessons and owning your own horses, you’re a step ahead. Certification may not take you as long because all you need to do is learn to adapt what you already know to riders with disabilities!
“We remain what we have been trained to be: special education or adaptive physical education teachers, psychologists, recreational therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, riding instructors, vaulting coaches, and so on. But, by working with a special population, we do need to acquire specific knowledge about that population and then apply our skills differently. The equine setting also requires special knowledge and additional training to manage the horse and his environment correctly.” (Engel)
LET’S GET STARTED!
So you’ve decided it’s for you! Check out these links at PATH Intl.’s website about certification.
- PATH Intl.’s Certification Info page
- PATH Intl.’s Registered Instructor Certification Booklet - the first thing you should read if you’re interested in getting certified. I will refer to “The Booklet” often in this article!
HOW TO GET CERTIFIED WITH PATH INTL.
Option A) attend a PATH Intl. Approved Training Course (ATC): take classes and teach several days a week for several month, pass all the exams, and get recommended for certification. This is only feasible if you live close to the barn or can take time off of life to move to a new place for a while. But the amount of personal training you get sounds incredible. For a list of ATCs go to PATH Intl.’s Calendar’s Search By Category.
Option B) the Workshop and Certification process: study at home, pass all the tests, assistant teach at a barn for 25 hours, then go to a PATH Intl. Workshop and Certification and pass the in-person riding and teaching tests. See The Booklet for PATH Intl.’s information on this.
Like most people I know, I did Option B! The rest of this article explains the Workshop and Certification process and gives my tips and advice.
THE WORKSHOP AND CERTIFICATION PROCESS
This is all the same information as found in The Booklet, but with my added tips. There are 2 Phases, but I added a Pre-Phase and Post-Phase!
Pre-Certification (my addition)
Take steps to prepare for certification by actively working at becoming a better rider and teacher.
- Research which workshop you want to attend, when and where.
- Read the info below about the process and how long each step takes.
- Decide whether you want to do your Workshop and Certification together or separately.
- Make a plan! Decide when to do each step, phase, Workshop and Certification on the calendar.
- Improve in areas you need to before starting the process (see “Requirements” above).
Phase 1 – you have 6 months, or else you have to start over
- Become a PATH member (takes 7-10 days)
- Instructor Application
- You need to show proof of PATH membership but you might be able to apply for membership and instructorship at the same time, instead of waiting for your membership card to come and then applying (so I hear)
- The Booklet is confusing, it says your application is good for 1 year AND Phase 1 components must be completed within 6 months of application. I think this means you have 6 months to complete it, and if you fail any portion, you have 6 more months to do it again and pass. But I’m not sure so give yourself 6 months, not 1 year.
- If a while has passed and you haven’t heard back from PATH, don’t be afraid to call them to check in and say get me my passwords so I can take the online courses!
- Adult and Child CPR and basic First Aid Certification
- Take 2 online classes and exams
- CAT Course -
- 60 days
- Don’t fret about memorizing everything, it’s online so obviously it’s open book, and the test walks you through everything they want you to know and get from the Standards.
- Instructor Self Study Course -
- 180 days
- Because it’s online, you can totally look up answers in other windows during the tests, but it’s best to actually know the info.
- Read the books they recommend, because they are really good books!
- Complete the Horsemanship Skills Checklist (in The Booklet)
- Find a mentor/instructor to supervise your teaching hours, give you feedback, and help you prepare for certification.
- This can be any PATH Instructor who is willing to teach you how to teach.
- This person doesn’t have to have taken a mentor class, but it helps. Just as long as they’re good and know their stuff and the PATH way.
- Be aware that many barns charge for mentorship and teaching hours.
- Start with the the barn you’re already volunteering at.
- Other options including using PATH’s mentor list (sign in to PATH Intl. and search members), or long distance mentoring online (so I’ve heard).
- Start teaching hours.
- Take riding lessons yourself.
- Work through the “Registered Instructor Criteria” and research anything you don’t know.
- Contact Workshop host site to say you’re interested and see how quickly slots fill up. You can’t sign up until you’ve finished Phase 1, but it’s good to let them know you’re planning on coming.
- Read Equestrian Special Olympics Coaching Guide because it contains tons of great TR information
- Read PATH’s recommended reading books
- Get your Instructor in Training (IT) standing!
- After turning in and completing all of the above you are an IT!
- This takes 7-10 days for the office to process after receiving everything.
- Again, if it takes a while, don’t be afraid to call PATH and check in.
- If you don’t get your IT in 1 year you have to start all over again.
Phase 2 – you have 12 months, or else you’ll need to repeat Phase 1
- Work on 25 hours mounted group teaching
- must have 2+ students, be mounted, and be under PATH mentor
- hours are good for 2 years
- for tips, see LEARNING TO TEACH section below
- Register for the Workshop & Certification!
- 1) Contact the Host Site.
- 2) They will send you registration paper work.
- 3) Register for the Workshop and send them your IT letter - at least 30 days prior, but try to do it sooner because spots can fill up fast at some hosts.
- 4) They will send you Phase 2 forms.
- 5) You will send them your Completed Phase 2 forms – this includes a resume, references, essay questions, documented teaching hours, releases, etc.
- Take riding lessons.
- Practice the riding test – see TIPS FOR THE RIDING TEST below
- Attend Workshop - 2 ½ days (is good for 2 years)
- during which you learn everything you wish you’d been taught in Phase 1 - I absolutely loved my workshop, it was the best educational experience ever
- Attend Certification
- can be at same time as Workshop or later
- the Certification test has 2 parts:
- 1) Horsemanship test – in which you ride a pattern
- see TIPS FOR THE RIDING TEST below
- 2) Teaching Ability test – in which you teach a class of 2 students with disabilities.
- You are given information on your students the night before and must write a lesson plan.
- Before the lesson you turn in your lesson plan.
- After the lesson you must write a self-evaluation and turn that in.
- see TIPS FOR THE TEACHING TEST below
- 1) Horsemanship test – in which you ride a pattern
There are TWO ways to do Phase 2:
- 1) First get your practice hours, then take the Workshop and the Certification tests at the same time
- pros: everything is fresh in your memory when you take the test, because you just took the workshop prior
- cons: you learn everything you wish you had known for the past howevermany months of practice teaching, during which you potentially learned to teach in a way that is different from what is taught in the workshop and what they want to see for the test
- 2) First do the Workshop, then get your practice hours, and lastly take the Certification test
- pros: you learn everything you need to know before doing your practice teaching hours
- cons: you don’t get a good review right before the test by attending the workshop prior, you don’t get to know the evaluators and what those specific ones are looking for in the tests, and there may be a difference between how you learned to teach at the workshop and how they teach at the barn where you’re doing your practice teaching hours at – therefore you may not get to practice correctly and forget much of what you learned at the workshop
- Whichever way you do it is up to you, how you learn best, and how much time and finances you have.
Post-Phase – my addition
- If you passed - Wait with bated breath for your beautiful certificate to come in the mail.
- If you failed 1 test – Cry. Take time to get better then make a resubmission video.
- If you failed both tests – Cry. Take time to get better, then in 12 months either 1) get 10 more teaching hours and re-attend a Certification or 2) attend an ATC.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE?
- Min: 3 months, to give yourself time for office paperwork.
- I know someone who did it in less, but he already had years of experience teaching able bodies riders.
- Max: 1 1/2 years (Phase 1 of 6 months + Phase 2 of 1 year)
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
PATH reports that “The average cost of registration for a PATH Intl. certification workshop and test, which takes place over three days, is $800.” (source)
I can vouch for that! Mine cost much more because I took lessons, bought recommended books, and had to drive long distances for instructor training and the workshop!
When budgeting, factor in paying for:
- PATH membership – $55
- Instructor application/courses – $60
- CPR & First Aid Training
- Books for courses (buy through PATH)
- PATH Intl. Standards and Accreditation Manual
- Hard Copy $65 + $12 (shipping)
- CD $20 + $7 (shipping)
Online $Free (
297 pages if printed single sided)
PATH Intl. Instructor Education Guide, 2nd Edition (Hard copy) $35 + $9 (shipping)
- PATH Intl. Standards and Accreditation Manual
- Books for recommended reading
- Fee for teaching hours & mentorship
- Riding Lessons
- Gas costs
- Workshop and Certification fees and travel costs
TIPS FOR LEARNING TO TEACH
- Refer to these articles I’ve already written:
- Read Equestrian Special Olympics Coaching Guide
- Watch other teachers! Take notes and analyze based on the questions from Watching A Therapeutic Riding Lesson.
- Start a journal writing down down neat lesson plans and things you liked that other teachers did.
- Do make lesson plans! It may look like the other teachers don’t, but that either means they 1) do it when you’re not looking and remember it in their head, or 2) don’t actually write them because they have gotten so used to lesson planning they can do it in their heads now. You will get there one day. For now, write lesson plans! I have heard top notch instructors say they still write lesson plans for their students.
- Understand that there are a million ways to do things with horses, and everyone thinks that their way is the right way, and every barn does things a little differently – but with PATH certification, their ways IS the right and safest way. So while not everyone will fit into the PATH box, everyone needs to for the certification. And this is a good thing because it makes your starting place that of safe and effective practices. After you pass, you can go home and expand your style. But for the certification you have to be PATH perfect.
- First focus on the basics: teaching the lesson in the right order with all your tack checks, good feedback, and how’s and why’s. Once these get ingrained in your head, they will become automatic, and you will feel more comfortable with teaching, and you can be more flexible and handle surprises better and adapt your lesson to unforeseen events easier.
- Persevere! Learning to teach can be REALLY HARD! You might feel like you’re a beginner all over again, because you ARE. You are learning a NEW SKILL and don’t have your back pocket full of tricks yet. THAT’S OKAY because everyone has to start somewhere and it’s the stress that makes us strive to be better. And don’t give up, it WILL get better! What do instructors say? Practice makes perfect! In order to teach your students to overcome challenges, you must first overcome your own. If it’s been a long time since you learned something new, you may have forgotten that is can be uncomfortable, and that’s normal, and okay.
- Be humble. Learn from your mistakes. Take criticism with a grain of salt. Gonna be honest, the certification process was THE most humbling and sometimes humiliating thing I have every done. It sucks to not feel good at something. But don’t let it drive you to a pity party. Let it drive you to learn from your mistakes and to change and improve.
- Be kind to yourself. Learning a new skill (teaching kids with disabilities) can be hard enough without you getting discouraged. It takes time. Be kind to yourself.
- Don’t expect perfection right away. Remember, it takes 6-10 years to master something. Give yourself at least 1 year. If you know any school teachers, you have probably heard that the first year of teaching is the hardest. Well guess what, you’re a teacher now, so that goes for you too! Again, give yourself at least 1 year.
- If you don’t like teaching TR like you thought you would, give yourself time (1 year, perhaps). Just because you don’t like it NOW when you don’t know what you’re doing, doesn’t mean you won’t like it in a few months or a year when you DO know what you’re doing and are comfortable with it.
- Personal story time: I knew from previous experience when I taught at a camp that the first year of teaching was awful and hard and I didn’t like it, but the second year it clicked and I was able to enjoy it and branch out. So I remembered this through my certification journey, during which I was nauseous with nerves every single time I had to teach, and often did not even enjoy teaching or feel good at it. And for me it has proved to be true – once I got over the awful hard part, it got better, and now I like it.
- You need to get used to it being hard and overcoming it because this process continues even after you’re certified – with your first session of teaching, and to some degree with every student you have. The first few lessons will be hard until you get to know them and how to teach them, then it will get better. The first 7 week session I taught was rough, many students regressed, but the second session was great and many improved. As you develop the good habit of perseverence, and grow in skill and knowledge, it will get easier.
- Give yourself small milestones. The process can seem long and overwhelming, so break it down into pieces and celebrate little victories.
- Also, read this for a little perspective.
TIPS FOR TEST PREPARATION (FOR BOTH RIDING AND TEACHING)
- Breathe! My friend taught me this good one to calm anxiety: Breathe in 4 seconds, hold 4 second, breathe out 6 seconds, hold 2 seconds.
- Visualize your riding test and teaching test going well.
- Script and practice what you’ll say in the lesson.
- Remind yourself: if something goes wrong, let it go and move on. You still have every other opportunity to show them what you do know and kick some @$$.
- Be positive, not self defeating! When I failed my riding test, I realized I could come back and teach my lesson either with an “I’m going to fail” attitude, or an “If I’m going to fail, they’re going to have to take me down kicking and screaming because I’m going to teach the best damn lesson ever” attitude.
TIPS FOR THE TEACHING TEST
- The evaluators want to see that you know the following by demonstrating it in your lesson:how to structure a lesson
- how to teach a skill
- how to do task analysis
- how to give praise and feedback
- how to direct progression
- how to communicate with volunteers
- how to communicate with students
- how to tailor a lesson to specific students (everything in it must have a purpose)
- Talk a LOT because the evaluators want to see what you know and you can only do that by showing them – even if that’s not what you would normally do in a lesson, even if the student already knows what you’re telling them. You want to show the judges what you know. If you would normally speak less for a good reason (like a sensory overload student) then mention it in your self evaluation.
- Narrate everything you are doing, such as “now I’m checking the girth, it’s tight…” because the evaluators are not always looking so they might not see you – but they can hear you.
- It may help to cut the arena in half to keep the students together and stay closer to the evaluators so they can hear you.
- EVERYTHING must have a purpose, from who you mount first to what warm-ups you do to which progressions you choose. Everything.
- Show problem solving, like cutting across the arena early because horse slows down near mounting area, or rearranging horses to keep everyone together, etc.
- Show safety – if it’s windy, don’t use the noisy end of the arena, if they can’t keep spacing teach them how to pass, etc.
- Review these posts, because it’s everything else they want to see:
Planning Your Lesson
At my test we had 20 minutes to teach our lesson, including mounting and dismounting. This is because there isn’t enough time for everyone to have 30-45 minute lessons – that would take forever and the evaluators’ brains would explode. Therefore we had to give the evaluators a condensed version of a normal lesson and mention anything we left out in our self evaluation, which was written and turned in after. If your teaching test is also 20 minutes, I recommend the following lesson plan:
- set up arena
- don’t use a lot of props, it takes too long to set and clean up, and too long for your students to go through them which prevents you from including progression
- for example, instead of 5 trail obstacles or an elaborate game with laminated items, do 2 ground poles and a game that requires no props
- Tack check
- Mount & Stirrups (5 minutes)
- Mounting is the ideal time to get your task analysis in, regardless of whether the student already knows how to mount. To not be degrading to the student you can say something like “ok, time to mount. I know you already know how, but I’m going to walk you through it because I need to show the evaluators I know the steps, okay? so let’s go slowly…”
- You can have your sidewalkers fix stirrups to save time, if you know they know how.
- Tack check
- Warm up (3 minutes)
- cut it shorter than you’d usually do it to save time, and mention additional warm-ups you’d normally do in your self-evaluation later
- 1 upper body and 1 lower body each direction
- Teach skill (1 minute) – what, why, how, where
- Practice skill (6 minutes) – include progression if time
- add another Tack check somewhere in here
- if you want to do a game that’s fine, but make sure you’re using it to teach a riding skill because that’s what the evaluators want to see!
- Cool down (2 minutes)
- Review and wrap up (1 minute)
- Dismount (2 minutes) - make sure you’re angled so the evaluators can see you do this
- loosen girths
- remember to clean up your arena.
How to write your self-evaluation
- Write it in paragraph form – at least that’s what my evaluators preferred instead of bullet points.
- First evaluate the students like you would for a progress note.
- Include how they mounted, what they did, how much assistance they had for each activity, their strengths and difficulties, and what to work on in their next lesson.
- I did 1 paragraph for each student.
- Second evaluate yourself.
- Include what you think you did well, what you did wrong, what you would do differently if you did it again, and any other thoughts you have.
- They want to see that you know how to evaluate your teaching and determine improvement to make for next time.
- Do list things you did wrong. If they aren’t safety or standard issues, you are more likely to pass if you show the evaluators you know what you did wrong, than if they think you didn’t catch it.
TIPS FOR THE RIDING TEST
The riding test pattern is described in The Booklet. Note that every evaluator is different, so these comments may not apply to all of them, or the ones you have, but this is what I was told, and found it helpful.
Pattern tips (#s correspond with #s in The Booklet’s riding pattern sheet)
- Tack check before mount. (1)
- Make sure you halt fully. (1)
- it’s ok to slow your horse to sit the trot. (4)
- For canter/lope transition, if departs on the wrong lead, bring back down and try again immediately. It’s ok to circle and try again. (5)
- For the serpentine get in a straight line through the center (like a figure 8, not a figure X) (6)
- Canter to sitting trot transition should be directly to sitting trot, no posting in between (7 to 8).
- Sitting trot circle can be big, like a 20 meter. (8)
- At the end turn on to the quarter line. (9)
- When backing it is technically correct to check behind you both directions before backing. Make sure to give your horse a release at each step. (11)
- Dismount safely by taking both feet out of the stirrups. If you have to leave one foot in, leave it in until both legs are on the same side then take it out and slide down – do not leave one foot in a step down to the ground like off a ladder! Then take your reins back over your horse’s head and lead the horse away. (12)
- If you make a mistake, recover and move on. You have the rest of the test to do well.
- If you make a mistake, they may give you an opportunity to demonstrate the corrected mistake later, because they want to see what you DO know.
- During the warm up get in all gaits and transitions, since they judge on this too and if your test doesn’t go so well, a good warm up might help.
Preparing for the riding test
- Practice the riding test! Practice it over and over and over so you won’t forget it on the day of.
- Videotape yourself taking the riding test and analyze it, what you look like and need to fix.
- If you’ve never shown before or get nervous riding in front of evaluators, practice the test in front of people or while being videotaped.
- Take lessons! Don’t assume just because you know how to ride you’ll pass the test. You should brush up. Also, you learn some important things by taking lessons: how your students feel, teaching methods and attitudes you’d like to incorporate into your own style, and little quips and sayings to put in your own back pocket for teaching
- Visualize riding the test correctly. Go through it in your mind over and over.
Riding Test things they want to see
- secure seat, posture, alignment
- control of the horse at all gaits
- correct aids
- not hanging on the reins for balance
- smooth transitions – you must hit every transition, if you need to circle and ask again that’s ok (at least our evaluators said it was ok)
- bend through corners and on circles to demonstrate you know what bending it and the separation of aids
- do half halt or check when you need to rebalance
- not necessarily on the bit, but balanced
- must be on correct diagonal for posting
- head up, look through turns.
- light contact – more contact for English
- good posture and alignment
- try to get transition right on the letter.
- make correction (posting diagonal, lead change)
- following seat and hands
- clear aids
- smooth transitions
- effective natural aids
IF YOU FAIL…
I failed my Certification. Well, I passed the teaching test and failed the riding test, which is ironic because the teaching test was the one I was so worried about. But then again, maybe it’s not ironic. I practiced what I was worried about, and ignored what I thought was in the bag. I thought I already knew how to ride. But that was very prideful of me, and a good lesson in humility. I failed the riding test for many reasons, some within my control and some outside of it. But that’s how the game goes. And I survived and I am better for it, because I took more lessons, improved my riding and teaching, and had a big lesson in humility. Not that I didn’t go home and cry for several days afterward. Anyway, if you fail, remember…
- Making a resubmission video is way easier than taking the test in person!
- Life goes on.
- Now you can relate to your students when they try hard things and fail. And hopefully you will have a story to tell them about trying again and succeeding.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
What was your experience like? Any advice?
Please let me know if any of the information is outdated and needs an updating, or leave a comment below! Thanks!
Note: This is not professional advice, this is a blog. I am not liable for what you do with or how you use this information. The activities explained in this blog may not be fit for every rider, riding instructor, or riding center depending on their current condition and resources. Use your best personal judgement!