By Sarah Evers Conrad
So has it finally started? Has your child started asking for a horse? Or at least some riding lessons? Or maybe you are the one who dreams of galloping across an open field on your trusty steed. But how do you get started? Perhaps your first thought is to open up the Yellow Pages, or more often these days, run to the Internet to Google it. The problem with this is that anyone can advertise themselves as a riding instructor.
Think about this: Do you really want to trust just anyone to put your child on a 1,000-pound animal with a mind of its own? What about if they really don’t know what they are doing and there is an accident? Just like fitness trainers, emergency medical technicians, bus drivers, and auto mechanics require special training and a certificate or license to be in their field, so should riding instructors. For safety reasons alone, not just anyone should be able to call themselves a riding instructor and open up for business. Unfortunately, there is no law requiring this, but you can seek out a certified riding instructor for yourself or your child. And this is the smartest thing to do, especially if the prospective rider is a beginner.
The example above illustrates one of the best reasons to learn from a certified riding instructor, but there are many more reasons to find a certified instructor, and some excellent reasons why you should find someone certified through the Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA).
The Importance of Certification
First off, let’s look at why you should find a certified instructor, and then we will get into why that instructor should be certified by the Certified Horsemanship Association.
1. Learning how to ride involves more than just climbing aboard and learning how to steer. Becoming an equestrian (a horseman or horsewoman) involves learning the following main items: how to take care of horses; how to handle horses in a safe and effective manner, both while mounted and on the ground; what to do in case of an emergency; how to care for the various parts of an equine facility–from the stall, to the tack room, to the fencing and beyond; what equipment and clothing you will need for riding and possibly competing, if you go that route; how to interact with other equestrians safely and appropriately, especially while mounted or in competition; what equipment (also called tack) is used on the horse; why certain tack is used; how to use tack; how to take care of tack; and more. These are just the basics. There is so much more to learn if you decide to compete or become a professional who works within the equine industry.
2. A certified instructor also knows what they are doing when they evaluate the rider’s position and technique while he/she is in the saddle. The instructor should be able to teach the rider how to ride with the correct position while also stressing safety and effectiveness.
3. A certified riding instructor will know when and how to make adjustments in tack, technique, and form, all while giving constructive criticism.
4. A certified instructor can teach the student about horse behavior and how to get the desired results from horses with different personalities without squashing the spirit of the horse. The beauty of horses are that they are not machines. Each one has a different personality, and when a rider knows how to work with various equine personalities in a harmonious fashion, then they have moved into the more advanced stages of horsemanship.
5. A certified riding instructor knows how to make each lesson fun. Even when a rider is having a frustrating moment, a certified instructor will know how to help the rider move through and past it so that the lesson becomes fun again. After all, that is what riding is all about. Most people get into it for the fun.
6. A certified instructor knows how to match a horse’s personality to a rider’s personality. This is important at a larger stable with multiple school horses or when buying that first horse.
7. A certified instructor knows how to instill self-confidence and can keep a rider from getting frustrated when a movement or lesson has not been going smoothly.
8. A certified riding instructor will know why certain things are done a certain way, but will also know about various methods of teaching and the various schools of thought that have developed during man’s history with horses. One example comes to mind when thinking of how an instructor can teach why things are done. Why do we put our heels down, and how far down should they be? Based on the discipline, your heels will be down hardly at all or quite a bit, and you don’t want to jam them down. Your heels act as shock absorbers for you and helps keep your pelvis open when you ride instead of it being closed. This then lessens bouncing while you ride. Knowing the “whys” and theory of riding is something a certified instructor will keep up on and be able to explain, and if you have a question they can’t answer, they will find the answer for you and get back with you!
9. A certified instructor can teach a beginning rider correctly from the start. It is a lot easier to begin riding with good habits vs. trying to break a rider’s bad habits that have been learned from a poor instructor. Getting off to a correct start can prevent a rider from wasting valuable time and money with a poor instructor, as well.
10. A certified riding instructor will know how to choose school horses carefully for their program. Therefore, riders at a barn with a certified instructor and multiple school horses will gain experience riding many different types of horses instead of just practicing with one or two horses owned by a non-certified instructor teaching in their back yard.
11. And for the rider who decides to go it alone and teach himself/herself how to ride using only videos, books, and the Internet, then this rider will be missing out on a lot of useful knowledge and the resources that a certified instructor can provide. In addition, the rider would not receive any of the benefits mentioned above. It is best to use a certified instructor and then supplement that instruction with the above sources.
12. One thing to remember is that even the best riders in the world have instructors or coaches. Professional horsemen and women know that there is always something valuable to learn from another well-trained equestrian. Many of those Olympic equestrians likely had their first ride with a riding instructor on a school horse.
The Importance of Certification from CHA
While there are other organizations that certify riders, several of these are designed for the more advanced rider or for the rider of a certain discipline. But for the purpose of this article, we have been discussing the more grassroots rider…the beginner. And this is the level of rider that CHA has strived to help the most throughout its 45+ year history. For those other organizations that certify instructors for beginning riders and beyond, many are not as in-depth and rigorous in their testing and requirements for their instructors to receive certification. For various reasons below, the program created by the Certified Horsemanship Association weeds out inexperienced instructors, leading to certified instructors that are better options for the beginning rider.
1. First and foremost, instructors certified through CHA have had to actually attend a multi-day intensive certification clinic, where they are tested with written tests, evaluated by two CHA clinic instructors and their peers (other clinic attendees), and where they participate in in-depth workshops and must share their ideas and teaching methods. Only then are they given a certification at the discretion of the two CHA certified instructors leading the clinic. This is much more involved than merely sending in a video, etc., for certification.
2. CHA certified instructors are tested on five of the most important aspects needed for a good instructor. These are: safety, horsemanship knowledge and ability, teaching techniques, group control, and responsibility and professionalism. Aspiring instructors must show proficiency in these five areas or they will go home without certification.
3. CHA instructors are only certified to the level that they can teach, meaning that an instructor should not be teaching beyond that level. So when a parent or prospective rider is seeking out an instructor, they know how far that instructor will be able to take them. However, certification and the level should be verified by the new student before starting with any instructor.
4. Since a CHA certified instructor has invested their time and their money to attend a certification clinic and participate in CHA’s program, a student will know that this instructor is a serious professional. They have committed themselves to demonstrating that they are a knowledgeable, safe, and effective instructor and business manager.
5. CHA instructors must also keep up to date on the latest techniques, news, and knowledge within their industry. By participating in 25 hours or more of continuing education and work within the equine industry, they can renew their certification once it has expired in three years vs. being re-tested at another clinic. Or to raise their level of certification, they are required to go through the testing process again. It is just as rigorous and intensive to raise his/her teaching certificate level.
6. Most CHA certified instructors continue learning more themselves at hands-on clinics and workshops put on by CHA or other equine organizations. This striving for excellence is certainly a reason to enlist the help of a CHA certified instructor to teach you or your child how to ride.
With these 18 reasons to use a certified riding instructor, and more importantly, one who is certified through CHA, we hope you can see the importance of not just choosing anyone off the Internet or at the recommendation of another person who does not ride themselves. To find a CHA instructor, visit HYPERLINK “http://www.CHAInstructors.com” http://www.CHAInstructors.com
Stayed tuned to this blog for the next topic: How to find the best certified riding instructor for you.
Further Reading: Learn more about what it takes to begin riding with the book, Ready to Ride. This must-have book discusses how to choose a breed or riding style, looking for an instructor, what equipment you will need, how to lease a horse, cost factors, and more. Written with safety and the best education in mind, this book can be bought online at CHA’s store. HYPERLINK “http://cha-ahse.org/store/products/Ready_to_Ride_Book.html” http://cha-ahse.org/store/products/Ready_to_Ride_Book.html