I’m neither for nor against riding instructor certification because after all these many years of limited certification in the U.S., I’m convinced that certification has little to do with becoming a first class riding instructor. But there are certain benefits to certification.

  1. Certification tells others that you have studied a prescribed plan of curriculum
  2. Certification tells people that you have probably done some work in safety
  3. Certification identifies which part of the industry you are connected with
  4. Certification shows that you were serious enough to make a commitment to you career path
  5. Certification also shows that you have passed a certain standard of examination

I will always encourage the young riding instructor candidate to “go” for certifications in as many areas as they can. The time is coming, that in order to be competitive in the teaching business, instructors will need to be certified…unless they have been around, proving themselves, as long as the mighty Oak.

But I believe we’re a little bit upside down with our certifications. Why? Well because it’s relatively easy to become certified at the lower level and significantly more difficult to become certified to teach the upper levels. This is the complete reverse of the way our school teachers are educated. Without a degree in education, I could teach at the college level because I’m an expert in my field. But should I want to work in the elementary grades at a public or private school- I would be relegated to being a class mother or perhaps a teacher’s helper. Why?

This is because our educational system, with all it’s bumps and warts, realizes that the proper development of youngsters in elementary school has a direct bearing on how they will absorb education at the higher levels. The elementary school teacher is responsible for starting the child in the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. Without solid basics in these three areas a student will have difficulty going far in their education. The elementary school teacher is also responsible for teaching skills in socialization and teamwork. She helps to lay the foundation for our future “good citizens”. Consequently the education required to become an elementary school teacher is more stringent than to become a college instructor.

We should view teaching the basics to our beginning horsemen and women just as seriously as the educational system views teaching the basics to the elementary school students. By not giving our riders the correct, strong foundation in their horsemanship skills, instructors seriously limit the potential students have to become great horsemen and women. The instructor of beginners paves the way, making it possible for the  instructors of the lofty higher levels to do their jobs. The upper level instructors would be lost without the work of the instructors of beginners. The instructors who teach beginners lay the foundations for Olympians. Even more important than that….the instructor who lays the solid foundation for the beginner, opens doors and makes it more likely that that person will succeed at and enjoy riding for a prolonged amount of time.

If you are an instructor of beginning horsemen and women, no matter what their age, take a moment to understand that you hold one of the most important positions in riding instruction. Even when your student has moved on to ride with advanced or specialty instructors, they will still be building on the foundation that the you helped to lay.

Personally I believe that terrific beginner instructors for horseback riding are undervalued, and rarely acknowledged but they hold a most important position in our industry.

Thank you for reading The Riding Instructor!
Barbara Fox
reprint from 2009 

For information about viewing password protected posts click the button below

Barbara Ellin Fox TheRidingInstructor
  • HI Barbara – I’m new to your site and just wanted to say a thank you for so many great articles. I’ve been teaching over 20 years, have hosted a USPC chapter and have had several students go quite successfully to college riding programs.

    I’ve so far skimmed several of your articles and will (after barn chores!) continue to do so. There are many points that bring me to reminders of discussions I need to have with my assistant. Your purpose & delivery in your writing is wonderful clear.

    If you’re in my area, drop in any time!

    Aloha – Cyndy (Kona, Hawaii)

    • Dear Cyndy, thank you so much for your encouraging remarks. It’s great to know that there is a good instructor in Hawaii that loves Pony Club…did you know Trip Harting?
      Congratulations on success with your students. The more good horsemanship we can spread through the college programs and then out into the horse world the better! Keep up the good work:-)

      Thanks again
      PS Thanks for the invite, too!

  • Thank you Barbara! I teach beginners I believe good solid foundation is key to understanding and success. Your article made me extremely proud of myself for what I do.
    Cheers, B

    • Thank you for your kind comments. I truly believe that they way our beginners are started has everything to do with their future as riders and the future of this sport we love. Not only does a good beginner teacher give that great foundation, the things they teach will be passed along by their students. I like to think about how there are so many more beginners than there are advanced riders. And I love advance riders never to forget where they started! Thanks again and keep up the good work

  • Thanks for reprinting this. So what certifications would you recommend are of value for someone who is self-educated other than being an active adult volunteer in US Pony Club? I recently had to not award certifications to students of a “horsey college” grad, which begs the question “What are they teaching a “X” horsey college?”

    • Most of the certifications available in the U.S. are discipline driven, like USDF, or safety driven like CHA. You can even get a certification in clicker training. There’s nothing wrong with an activity driven certification because it shows that you’ve studied in your particular field. And I’m all for safety certifications. I wish we had a system like the British Horse Society or Germany. They both have programs with lots of scope and their programs are recognized world wide. I’d always hoped that USPC would make the move of developing instructor criteria with a training and certification program but I’m guessing that goes beyond the reach and interest of Pony Club. But Pony Club has become a funnel of sorts for USEA’s new certification program. I think for someone who has invested their time in Pony Club USEA would be the way to go followed up with USDF. I wouldn’t dive right in to the certification process unless I had lots of time, money and felt ready but would absorb what I could through USEA and USDF instructor certification clinics, even the “L” judge clinics and I’d be sure to have my Red Cross CPR up to date. Plus anytime you can attend the classes at USPC annual meeting (or USDF’s or USEA’s) you’ll walk away with more education. Then when you want to be certified for the purpose of advertising for business you will be able to make an informed choice for your direction. In England the BHS covers all the areas of balanced seat riding plus horse care plus safety certification for rider and for horse. It’s a nice all rolled into one package but it’s a lengthy process for a certification with any real punch.

      I find your comment about the horse college grad interesting. The college programs cover a huge gambit when you look at type, degrees offered, length of courses, majors etc. Some of the colleges go the intercollegiate route for riding competition and others like William Woods bypass intercollegiate and send their kids in to compete with the professionals on the show circuit. After all this is where they will compete in business. And remember, colleges graduate people with varying skill levels in all fields, not just equestrian.

      Many of the college programs cover dressage, hunt seat,saddle seat and western riding which produces a different mentality in the graduates. It’s more of a “I can teach everything to everyone” sort of outlook so in the MidWest I see a lot of riding programs developing that are the Jack of all trades with the major emphasis on success in the show ring.

      Balanced seat, of the sort that Pony Club was originally based on, is scarce in the U.S. and USPC has had to flex with the market and offer specialized ratings. USPC will always be one of my favorite programs.

      It takes knowledge to find those good instructors and people with depth that can successfully pass information along. Keep educating yourself,keep reading, go to clinics, and keep your ears on. In the years that we have corresponded I know you are on a good track. And congratulations for having the guts to not pass Pony Club kids that you felt were not ready. You do them a bigger favor by making sure they are grounded than you do by letting things slip by. That says a lot about you. Good job.

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}