If you're looking for a riding instructor, what qualifications would you expect from that person? Well, probably most important, you'd want to be safe. You'd also 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.
"In this country, anyone can hang a shingle out and call himself or herself a riding instructor," says Christy Landwehr, CEO of the Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA) 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 is teaching me or my child how to ride a horse."
So, 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, according to Christy, CHA is the original. Serving the industry for more than 40 years, CHA has much to offer individuals interested in the teaching side of the horse world.
While the association doesn't claim to teach clinic participants how to become an instructor, Christy 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.
Why CHA does what it does also revolves around a public safety and awareness platform. "We want to help the public identify teachers who have a validated skill set," says Christy. 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 from 18 years of age 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. "Clinic participants will teach these lessons, with other participants role-playing as students of varying ages."
"The teaching and role-playing was my favorite part of the certification clinic," says Diane Brandon, who received her Level Two certification in 2001. Brandon, who also runs a part-time family business from home, teaches Western riding on a part-time basis at J Bar 4 Ranch in Watkins, Colorado. She'd been teaching for about a year when she enrolled in her certification clinic.
"While I had some teaching and riding skills going into the clinic, I got so many new ideas during that week that I still use, even today," Diane says. "Watching others teach allowed me to see firsthand what worked for them and what didn't. This is an invaluable learning opportunity that's hard to find anywhere else."
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, and it's even possible-depending on your experience coming into the clinic-that you could attain a Level Four Certification at your very first clinic," Polly 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, Polly says, 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.
In the clinics, be prepared for everything from a formal class environment to riding outside. School horses and all necessary equipment are provided by the host facility. In fact, participants are discouraged from bringing their own horses and tack, because they likely won't even have time to use them.
Evening classroom sessions, as well as helping with barn chores, are all part of the package that keeps you busy from sunrise to sunset!
Achieving CHA certification brings instructors some neat perks. For example, some insurance companies offer a discount on premiums. Most important though, Polly says having a CHA certification raises the level of professionalism in your horse community. "When a parent opens the phone book looking for riding instructors, if your ad says 'certified,' you're who they're going to call first. In addition, a lot of facilities looking to hire new riding instructors now require certification."
The benefits of CHA membership are abundant. They include a subscription to two magazines: The Instructor, published by CHA, and Perfect Horse. You also get a detailed biography and photo listing on the CHA online database at www.CHAinstructors.com to help market yourself and your program, 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.
Diane also felt there were many benefits from a business standpoint. "Not only did I get great new teaching tips, but CHA also offers information on everything from dealing with people to marketing yourself, dressing for success, and business-planning strategies. It really promotes the whole package of the professional riding instructor," she says.
Renowned clinician and trainer Julie Goodnight is a CHA certified Master Instructor who received her certification in 1995. "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 was released in the spring of 2008 and it's a must-have for all riders and instructors."
Diane found the CHA manuals to be great resources. Not only did she receive the horsemanship manual, but CHA also supplied some student manuals that Diane continues to glean valuable exercises and teaching tips from.
In fact-falling under the "it's a small world" category-Julie Goodnight and Christy Landwehr were the CHA clinicians who tested Diane in 2001. Diane recalls being impressed by both of these women and, by extension, being impressed by the organization.
Most impressive, though, is CHA's longevity and the number of riding instructors currently certified. This number sits at 3,500 current members and almost 13,000 who've been certified since the early 1990s, which is an accomplishment.
So if you have a knack for teaching riding and envision working in this area in the future, or if you're already teaching quite a bit, think about taking that next step toward professionalism for yourself. Become CHA certified and ready to educate the public about safe, responsible, and fun horsemanship!
For more information on CHA, call (800) 399-0138, or visit www.CHA-ahse.org. Or write to CHA at The Kentucky Horse Park, 4037 Iron Works Parkway, Suite 180, Lexington, KY 40511. To find a riding instructor or accredited stable near you, visit www.CHAinstructors.com.