Deciding to embark on the instructor certification process starts with understanding the purposes behind certification.

In the U.K. –
The process of becoming a BHS instructor is immersion. In the U.K a person attends a riding school that teaches according to the British Horse Society syllabus with the goal of taking the Stages exams to become an instructor. It takes years to reach the top Stage of instructor through the BHS. Anyone who works through the BHS stages will have a thorough equestrian education.

The British Horse Society was founded in 1947 with the first instructor’s exam held in 1948. Over time the BHS evolved into an Awarding Body recognized by the U.K. Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to offer qualifications accredited into the National Qualifications Framework. You can learn more on BHS web site.

In the U.S. –
Organizations in the U.S. offer certifications that require shorter commitments and less money. Some programs offer a single clinic or a series of clinics. You can even do instructor certification online.

The U.S. system of certification is largely due to the evolution of the American Horse Shows Association which was the founding organization of the current USEF. Although AHSA began in 1917, well before the BHS, it’s purpose was “to draw together the horsemen and horsewomen of the North, South, East, and West in a unity of intention to maintain clean competition and fair play in the show ring.”

During the ‘60s the AHSA rulebook listed a handful of riding schools and what they taught. I chose the Potomac Horse Center for my career path from this list. School recommendations didn’t continue. Few people were concerned about the qualities of their instructor beyond how well their students rode and competed. Instructors followed luminaries such as; Vladimir Littauer, Gordon Wright, Bert DeNemethy, and Jack LeGoff, and horsemen retired from Fort Riley.

Organizations promoting instructor certification began to surface in the ‘80s. It was not long after that the USDF began it’s instructor certification program. The United States Eventing Association launched their ICP in 2002 and more recently the United States Hunter Jumper Association began offering trainer certification.

College is not to be left out as a source of riding instructor certification or credentials. Colleges that offer Equine Science degrees offer a taste of the various facets of the horse industry. Most college horsemen have had a couple of semesters of their declared seat and then a semester or two of another seat.

How to Choose –
Many of the certifications that are available in the U.S. today have different goals. The easiest way to narrow your choice is by looking at each group’s purpose statement.

General Horsemanship Instructor Certification –

Certified Horsemanship Association – CHA –
CHA’s stated purpose is “To promote excellence in safety and education for the benefit of the entire horse industry.”

CHA’S tag line explains who they are. “CHA changes lives through safe experiences with horses.”

The American Riding Instructor’s Association – ARIA
“ARIA is a national association for horseback riding instructors, whose purpose is to promote excellence in the profession of horseback riding instruction, based on the principles of Safety, Knowledge, and Integrity, with the health, happiness, and well-being of students and horses being of primary concern.”

In the Instructor Certification Test Information, which you can down load from the ARIA web site, ARIA states, “ARIA is not a training organization. We assess, to the best of our ability, the knowledge you already possess.”

Both CHA and ARIA offer respected certification in multiple disciplines. Either would be effective for instructors who were not discipline specific or those who have a broad range of clientele. Instructors wishing to teach at camps may benefit from either of these certifications.

The organizations have slightly different methods of evaluation.

Sport Specific Riding Instructor Certification –
Instructors who are passionate about a particular sport should consider following the path provided by their organization. I’ve attended sessions with both USDF and USEA and recommend them a sources of continuing education even if you aren’t interested in certifying.

The United States Dressage Federation – USDF –
USDF was the first organization to come on the scene with an educational program geared towards training instructors and testing for certification. From the beginning, USDF has aimed toward developing the understanding of dressage in America.

Their stated purpose is: The USDF Instructor/Trainer Program is designed to educate amateurs and professionals who wish to further their education in the classical system of dressage. 

United States Eventing Association – USEA –

I like USEA’s stated purpose for the ICP:
“Instructors are essential to the training of riders and their horses for humane, safe, and skilled participation in the sport of eventing. Started in 2002, the USEA Instructors’ Certification Program (ICP) educates all levels of eventing instructors to confirm their knowledge base, both theoretical and practical, upon which they will continue to build throughout their teaching lifetime. “

The United States Hunter Jumper Association – Trainer Certification –
USHJA’s certification program is the new kid on the block. Their purpose statement – “USJHA Trainer Certification Program was developed to preserve the American Hunter/Jumper Forward Riding System by offering a comprehensive educational program based on that system and providing increasing levels of certification for professional horse trainers.” 

Should You Invest in Riding Instructor Certification in the U.S.?
It depends. Certification is only a tiny step in the process of becoming a good riding instructor. The effort you put in to your equestrian education will have a direct effect on your success. Nothing can replace developing the foundation you need to succeed as an instructor and rider. Good riding instructors understand the old adage “The proof is in the pudding.”

There are Pros and Cons for Riding Instructor Certification in the U.S. –

  • Pros
    • Certification shows that you were willing to go through the steps, effort and expense to have a credential.
    • It says that on a particular day you were tested for certain knowledge.
    • You may be more attractive to potential employers.
    • You may be attractive to potential students who are new to riding.
    • It can help brand you as a professional.
    • Some certifications qualify you for discounts on instructor liability insurance.
    • As a certified instructor you will be on that organization’s approved list.
    • You will be part of a group.
  • Cons
    • Cost- instructor certification is expensive – although it’s a drop in the bucket when you compare it to moving to England or while you train.
    • You may want to decide if the discount in insurance outweighs the cost of certification.
    • Most U.S. riding instructor certification must be renewed. Some have to be retaken.
    • You will have to maintain membership to the group you certified with.
    • Certification does not guarantee that you’ll get a job, teach a student or can even teach.
    • Some of the certifications are very easy to obtain, while others are difficult. Easy certifications negate the purpose of certification.

What’s your opinion of riding instructor certification? Would you recommend certification to someone who wanted to become an instructor? Do you have a favorite program?

I look forward to sharing your comments about riding instructor certification. Thanks for reading The Riding Instructor.

Spring is coming!

Barbara Ellin Fox


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Barbara Ellin Fox TheRidingInstructor
  • There is a danger when there is only one authority awarding the certification that all instructors tend to reach the same methods FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE. There are now instances of instructors actually advertising that they are NOT BHS instructors.

    • Roger — You make a point that I had never considered before. It’s rather like cloning. In America there are so many different methods and a lot of them are copy cat methods, the danger there being a lack f understanding for why you do what you do. In some ways certification is just a piece of paper. People can start whatever organization they choose to start and certify their students. Thanks for your thought provoking comment. Barbara

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