Starting or Fine-tuning A.R. Instructor Training Program

Have you thought about helping someone on the road to becoming a certified adaptive (therapeutic) riding instructor? Are you already training individuals but want to bring your instructor training program to the next level? If yes to either…then keep reading!

Chances are if you are a certified adaptive (therapeutic) riding instructor…especially one who works at a facility that provides equine assisted activities and therapies (EAAT), you have been in a situation where you have thought about, or currently are, training someone who is seeking certification.

So what are some key points to think about and steps to take to get your training program rolling….or to beef up the current training process?

Are you ready to mentor an instructor in training?

  • Do you have some time and experience under your belt in the EAAT industry? Have you worked with various types of disabilities, horses, volunteers, class sizes, etc?
  • Have you, and are you continuing to do personal development such as taking riding lessons, receiving mentoring from another instructor, going to clinics, 
Teaching an adaptive riding lesson varies from traditional lessons becuase you not only have to think about your student(s) and horses(s) but also your volunteers and the various types of support your student may need.
Teaching an adaptive riding lesson varies from traditional lessons becuase you not only have to think about your student(s) and horses(s) but also your volunteers and the various types of support your student may need.

visiting other EAAT centers, having someone review your teaching, etc.?

  • Do you have the means to offer instructor training? Do you have group lessons that have 2 or more riders?
  • If you work with other people in the program, how do they feel about adding or changing the instructor training program.
  • Are you familiar with and do you implement safe teaching theory and techniques?
  • Are you familiar with the current EAAT industry standards and the certification criteria? Going through the PATH Intl. Mentor Training Workshop is helpful and also sitting through Workshops on a regular basis is helpful as well so you stay up to date on current industry and certification standards.

Decide what you want your training program to look like.

  • How many people can you or the center you are with take at a time?
  • How will you preserve the integrity and quality of your lessons while you train an instructor?
  • How long is your training program? Will you require the person to commit to a certain amount of time with you? Are you willing to offer condensed training with those who have a time constraint?
  • What is your end goal for your training program? Do you only want to train individuals who will stay with you or the center? Do you want to open up your doors to those who come in for training but then go out on their own or to a different center?
  • Are you going to charge for your instructor training program and if so how much?

What criteria are you going to set for those entering your instructor training program?

  • How much riding experience does the person need to have? Do you want them to already have the riding skills to pass the cert before they start? Are you willing and able to work with someone who does not yet have the riding skills by giving them riding lessons to get them where they need to be?
  • What type of experience in the EAAT industry do you want the person to have before they begin their supervised training hours? Do they need to have experience volunteering? Do they need to have already attended a PATH Intl. Workshop?
  • Are you going to require the individual to complete all of your volunteer training components prior to having them start instructor certification hours?
  • What level of riding and teaching theory knowledge do they need to have? Do they need to have prior teaching experience? Do they need to have prior experience with disabilities?

How will an individual progress through your training program and on to certification?

  • How many ‘shadowing’ hours will you require of the person before they can actually begin their supervised teaching hours?
  • What does a general outline of your instructor training program look like? How will the individual progress from week to week?
  • Will the instructor in training stay with the same supervising instructor or will they move to a different instructor after a certain amount of time? 
  • What tools and measurements are you using to give the instructor in training feedback on how they are progressing?
  • Do you only want to provide the bare minimum 25 supervised teaching hours or will you be requiring more by the time it is all said and done?

How will you handle difficult situations?

  • What if someone applies to your program but does not meet your criteria for an instructor in training?
  • What if someone has technically accumulated 25 supervised teaching hours, are not ready to certify yet, but are pressuring to attend certification ‘because they have the hours’?
  • What if someone has been with you for numerous hours and they are just not making any progress and it may seem that teaching therapeutic riding is just not a good fit?
  • How will you handle an individual who is constantly running late, flaky on showing up, does not dress professional, etc.? What will the counseling process be for warnings
  • What are some reasons you may discharge someone from your instructor training program?
  • If you have already trained someone, what difficult things have you encountered and how can you plan on avoiding them/handling them better next time?

More posts to come on developing and fine-tuning an instructor training program! I will be giving more details and tips about structure, trouble shooting, example documents, and more for the points listed above!


Brief info about the formalized training program I am familiar with and have helped to further develop and update over the past several years:

The format of the formalized training program below has come out of years of trial and error to get settled into the current flow training program that works for the center I am currently with (about 7 years worth of figuring it out!). We still occasionally hit 

I expect a lot from the instructors in training because I expect a lot from my students....and they of their instructor. A well rounded, prepared instructor who is willing to continually learn can take their students far regardless of if they are adaptive or traditional riding lessons.
I expect a lot from the instructors in training because I expect a lot from my students….and they of their instructor. A well rounded, prepared instructor who is willing to continually learn can take their students far regardless of if they are adaptive or traditional riding lessons.

bumps…but I try to see them as growth opportunists and chances for self-reflection on what is or is not working. Due to the size of our center, experience of the current instructors on staff, the number of students we have in a class, when our classes are offered, and the quality we have to maintain in lessons all affects the training program. At this time, we only accept 2 individuals a year and they must begin their training hours at the start of our program year. 

Is there a fee? Yes- The instructor training program at our center does have a fee because we want ‘buy in’ from the individual. The center and supervising instructors put in countless hours well beyond what the ‘fee’ covers and we make this very clear to the applicants. There is also an application fee for someone to submit their written information and a riding video and submitting and application does not guarantee entry into the program.

What type of riding skills does the person have to have? At this time, we will only accept individuals in to the instructor training program who are currently at a riding level that would enable them to pass the riding portion of certification. There are a couple different reasons for this: 1) We do not have the manpower or horsepower to give lessons to potential instructors on top of all the daily programs at the center. 2) Seeking out lessons prior to applying shows time invested into the equine industry 3) It is very hard for someone to teach something that they don’t know how to do very well. And the excuse of ‘well my rider will never do more than a walk with volunteer support’ is a completely unacceptable mindset for an instructor in training (I will do another post of this topic later!)

What type of experience in the EAAT industry does the person have to have? It is required that the individual completes all of the center’s volunteer training and have audited or attended a PATH workshop prior to starting their supervised teaching hours.

What happens if you encounter a difficult situation? My best suggestion would be to 1) have a thorough application process and be very clear with your expectations for an instructor in training. 2) Document everything! Give written feedback on lessons, give written counseling if you have to have a talk about a more sensitive matter, etc. 3) Be kind and gracious but don’t compromise your standards and know when to stand your ground as the actual certified professional who has experience in the EAAT industry

This training program does not allow people to start mid year and we do not offer expedited training for those in a time crunch anymore. And in all honesty….sometimes we say ‘no’ to a possible instructor in training because we just don’t have the time or manpower to give them a quality training.

I will go into more of the ‘whys’ behind the structure of the training program listed above that am familiar with…..but that is for a later post!


 Written by Saebra Pipoly. Learn more about the author by clicking here.

Send Saebra an email at saebra.p@hooffallsandfootfalls.comsubscribe to the Hoof Falls & Footfalls newsletter, follow on instagram, and subscribe to the YouTube channel!

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