If you're looking for a riding instructor, you'd want to work with someone who has lots of horsemanship knowledge and experience. You'd choose an instructor with proven teaching skills who could relate his or her knowledge to you in a meaningful way. You'd expect this someone to be respectful and professional.
"Anyone can hang out a shingle and call himself or herself a riding instructor," says Christy Landwehr, CEO of the Certified Horsemanship Association and a Master Level instructor herself. "I go to a stylist who has a certification to do my hair, so certainly I want at least the same level of expertise from someone who's teaching me or my child how to ride a horse."
Given this explanation, if you teach riding yourself, this certification process might be worth your time.
As one of the largest and oldest certification programs of its kind, CHA is the original. While the association doesn't claim to teach clinic participants how to become instructors, Landwehr notes: "You can't help but learn how to teach riding when 10 riding instructors get together and teach four lessons each during a five-day clinic, with instant feedback from one another and the clinic staff."
CHA offers an extensive menu of certification clinics designed to offer something to everyone — including arena instructors, trail guides, combined trainers, recreational vaulting coaches, therapeutic riding instructors, college and university programs, seasonal riding-program instructors (summer camps, dude ranches, etc.), and even equine-facility managers.
CHA revolves around a public safety and awareness platform. "We want to help the public identify teachers who have a validated skill set," says Landwehr. Certification demonstrates to both potential employers and customers that the instructor has been tested and proven against a respected standard, under independent evaluation.
The Certified Horsemanship Association offers two- to five-day certification clinics open to riders/instructors 18 years old and up.
"During the program, you'll be evaluated by a written test, by a riding test to ascertain your skill level, and by teaching at least four lessons, one of which is a ground lesson, with CHA-certified clinicians evaluating you for your teaching ability," explains CHA Program Director Polly Haselton Barger.
At the end of the clinic, you'll be assigned to a certification level based on your evaluations by the two CHA clinicians. "Levels range from one to four in both Western and English riding," Barger explains.
Instructors may recertify at the end of the three-year certification period by providing documentation of at least 25 hours of continuing education and work within the industry. However, if you're interested in raising your certification level, you must attend another CHA certification clinic and be reevaluated.
Certification clinics take place all over the United States and Canada. Host sites set their own prices according to the amenities they offer, but in general the clinics run from $500 to $800 for the five days, which usually includes lodging and meals.
Achieving CHA certification brings instructors some neat perks. For example, some insurance companies offer a discount on premiums. Most important though, Barger says having a CHA certification raises the level of professionalism in your horse community.
You'll also receive a subscription to The Instructor, published by CHA, a biography and photo listing on the CHA website, use of the CHA logo on your business cards, and professional insurance and sponsor discounts. You'll also have an opportunity to attend an annual educational conference, plus regional conferences.
Renowned clinician and trainer Julie Goodnight is a CHA certified Master Instructor. "Through this organization, I have learned so much about safety, professionalism, and industry standards," she says. "CHA has just completed a new edition of their excellent manual, The Composite Manual of Horsemanship, which I edited. It's a must-have for all riders and instructors."
Emily Esterson is a freelance writer, editor, and dressage rider based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Jenny Sullivan is an equine-industry writer, editor, and horsewoman based in Wheat Ridge, Colorado.