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Riding a Horse as Therapy

If you have solid horsemanship skills and enjoy working with people, consider becoming a certified instructor for the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH International.)

This nonprofit organization, formerly known as the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA), was formed in 1969. It provides equine-assisted activities and therapy (EAAT) around the globe.


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To ensure safety and quality of practices, the organization provides an accreditation process for riding centers and a certification process for instructors.

At the Colorado Therapeutic Riding Center in Longmont, I met a young girl who was born unable to speak. Habitually placing her head in her hands, she appeared shy and silent while waiting for her session to begin. Then, as the horse she rode took his first step, she laughed freely and easily.

This young girl is one of more than 48,000 participants who reap the benefits of therapeutic riding around the world. For all of us fortunate enough to hear the sound of her laughter break the silence, the therapeutic power or horses is clear.

Overview: Therapeutic riding is mounted equine activities, traditional or adapted to special needs, led by a certified instructor. Riders learn basic horsemanship, through which they receive therapeutic benefits.

Skills you’ll need: “A therapeutic riding instructor is somebody who teaches riding skills to people with disabilities,” says Tara McChesney, the PATH International certification coordinator.

Horsemanship skills are required for instructor certification. Instructors should also be willing and patient when educating themselves about disabilities, says McChesney. “It’s a very rewarding career, but it definitely takes a strong, patient individual to do it. This is a professional career.

“Anybody who has a patience and teaching personality, likes horses, and wants to combine those things would be successful,” she adds.

Certification process: PATH International’s three levels of certification in therapeutic riding are registered, advanced, and master. A master will have close to 1,000 mounted instructing hours. You may also earn specialty certification in driving and vaulting.

How to apply: To apply to be an instructor, you must first be a PATH International member, and pay both membership and instructor application fees. You’ll complete online courses and exams, and 25 hours of mounted instruction with the help of a mentor. You’ll also attend a 2 ½ day workshop.

Expert tips: You might want to start by volunteering. If you’re eager and would like to jump right in, McChesney recommends that you find a mentor. (A directory is posted on the PATH International website.) Review each level’s booklet upon application. Keep in mind that specialty certification isn’t entry level.

Contact: PATH Intl., (800) 369-RIDE [7433]; www.pathintl.org.

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