Do I recommend certification to student instructors? Would I tell prospective riders to look for only  instructors who have certification?

It all depends, because those are two questions that don’t have black and white answers.


The United States doesn’t have a standardized certification program like the British Horse Society in England or The German National Riding School.

We have a variety of choices that suit various needs, and certification is not a requirement in America. Certifications are offered in individual trainer’s programs, particular association disciplines, and in riding styles.

And think about this for a minute. Americans like to refer to their instructors as trainers and coaches, which broadens the category for certification.

A Lot of Programs

In a few short minutes I went online and found more than forty certification programs. I got tired of counting and quit. This creates a tangled web for the consumer who wants to become certified and the one who wants to take good lessons.

So, what is certification? Should it be from an organization that actually provides an education? Or should certification be like taking a driver’s license test where you learn it all ahead of time and demonstrate your ability to an examiner? I wonder when we’ll start taking our driver’s tests online?

The dictionary defines certification as: the action or process of providing someone or something with an official document attesting to a status or level of achievement.

Passing your driver’s test does not make you a great driver. It just verifies that on said day you passed. It makes it legal for you to drive a car.

A Good Program Should Include

In my humble opinion a good certification program should:

  1. provide a prescribed plan of curriculum in horsemanship
  2. include classes on education, teaching, and elementary psychology
  3. require demonstration of teaching ability in a variety of situations
  4. require completion of a course in first aid
  5. identify which part of the industry the instructor is connected with

I encourage young instructors to “go for” certifications because it shows that they are serious enough to make a commitment to their career path, but I encourage they choose a good program, one that suits their field. And I remind students that certification is only the beginning of becoming a good instructor. You can’t replace experience with a certificate.

Upside Down

Honestly, we’re a little bit upside down with our instructor certifications. It’s relatively easy to become certified at the lower levels and significantly more difficult to become certified to teach the upper levels. This is the complete reverse of education.

In the school system it’s the lower grade teachers that are required to have the most involved education. Education 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 requirements for becoming a college instructor.

Should it not also be this way with horsemanship? What are your thoughts on certification?

Here’s to great students and creative instructors!

Barbara Ellin Fox


For information about viewing password protected posts click the button below

Barbara Ellin Fox TheRidingInstructor
  • I have held several different certifications from different programs in the past 40 years of being an instructor. I finally let most of them lapse for two reasons. 1) No one seemed to care and it made no difference in recruiting clientele and 2) Politics. I discovered that examiners could not keep their personal biases out of their evaluations. I have a really terrible tale about one organization that I will not repeat here but it had to do with an examiner not thinking an applicant appeared “devout” enough.

    • Liz, Sadly what you wrote is true and I think we see it more in the US than in a country with a national school or program. In the U.S. anyone can start a certification program. Even the ones that appear solid are limited. One of the difficulties I see is that people who are certified through these programs think they have gotten a complete education. I live near a well known college with an equestrian program and have worked with multiple students who consider themselves instructors yet they can’t even explain the value of trot poles or why they would teach a student to ride with diagonals. They’ve had a semester of each seat and think they can teach everything. And they expect to be well paid. The short is, and your comment indicates you know this, a good riding instructor develops over time and through experience, and their reputation is what recommends them. And politics- Argh! It just makes you want to hang out in your own barn. The horse industry would deflate without them. Thanks for your honest comment. Barbara Ellin Fox

  • Excellent points Barbara. There needs to be some certification in place, it gives an extra measure of security for the riders.

    • Stacy,
      Thank you so much for your comment. I think it might be hard to be an non-horsey parent looking for instruction for a child and even know what questions to ask. I like the organizations that emphasize safety in their certifications. Barbara

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