How to become a Certified Therapeutic Horseback Riding Instructor

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The following was written in February 2013 based on my experience with the certification process August 2011 to March 2012. I will try to keep this current, but as time goes on there may be some changes. My passion is helping people do things I had a hard time doing myself, so I hope this helps you! This is not an official PATH Intl. article, this is just my experience.


PATH Intl. is transitioning to a new certification process for their first level of therapeutic riding instructor. They are phasing out of the “PATH Intl. Registered Therapeutic Riding Instructor” certification process, into doing a new and improved “PATH Intl. Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor” (CTRI) process.

PATH Intl. is no longer accepting applications for the old Registered Instructor certification. 12/20/2020 will be the last date that Registered Instructor certifications and resubmissions will be held.

The new PATH Intl CTRI process began this year, 2020, and I am currently learning about it and collecting tips and resources with which to update this page by the end of the year.

NOTE: This post is about the OLD certification, “PATH Intl. Registered Therapeutic Riding Instructor”.

Otherwise, this post was Last Updated: 10/23/2018

There’s a lot here, so here’s an index….click to go to that part of this page.


There are lots of organization offering certifications:

This article will focus on PATH Intl. certification for their first level of certification the Registered Instructor.


Before you decide to get certified, think about the following.

Overview of the TR Instructor:

  • trained in horsemanship (horse knowledge and riding)
  • understand problems presented by each disability and are comfortable with them
  • develop teaching techniques that accommodate special needs
  • train horses specifically for disabled riders
  • use special equipment to compensate for disabilities
  • be concerned with safety factors unique to persons with disabilities

(Source: Engel, Barbara T., M.Ed, OTR. Article “Therapeutic Riding: Its Benefits, Professions and Divisions” from the book “Therapeutic Riding I Strategies for Instruction Part I”).

Job Description of the TR Instructor may include:

  • teach private and group lessons to both persons of disabilities and able-bodied students
  • stay on time with the schedule
  • set up and clean up the barn before and after lessons
  • manage the barn aisle and volunteers
  • plan riders’ goals and objectives
  • create lesson plans
  • write progress notes
  • assign horses and volunteers to riders
  • communicate with parents
  • perform new rider assessments
  • monitor horse behavior and tack fit
  • whatever else the barn decides!

The requirements:

  • You are over 18 years old.
  • You know about horses. This means you know about horse breeds, confirmation, behavior, grooming, tack, tacking, unsoundness, stable management, health, sickness, training, and handling.
  • You can ride. This means you have correct riding posture and can walk, trot, canter, woah, back up, collect your horse, change rein across the diagonal, sit the trot, post the trot, identify if you are on the wrong posting diagonal and change it, and identify if you are the on the wrong canter lead and change it.
  • You know about riding. This means you know horse safety, mounting, dismounting, correct posture, gaits, natural and artificial, aids, movements, ring figures, exercises, and games – and how to teach these things.
  • You have some experience with therapeutic horseback riding (I would highly recommend volunteering at a PATH Intl. Accredited therapeutic riding center before diving into certification).
  • You have some experience with people with disabilities.
  • You have some experience teaching.
  • You are not afraid to lead and talk to groups.
  • You have good communication skills.
  • You enjoy learning.
  • You are willing to make mistakes and learn from them.
  • You are willing to humble yourself to learn a new way of doing things (in particular the PATH Intl. methods for the safe and effective instructing of persons with disabilities).
  • You have time to study and take lessons (in order to learn what you don’t know).
  • You have money (in order to study and take lessons to learn what you don’t know).
  • If you don’t meet any of these requirements, you are willing and have the time to improve in these areas. This may mean studying horse information, taking riding lessons, volunteering extra at a therapeutic riding barn, or saving up money for the certification process.


  • Just because you don’t meet the above requirements doesn’t mean you can’t becomes a certified therapeutic riding instructor – it just means it will take you longer because you have more to learn!
  • Understand that every person who starts this journey is either stronger in horse experience or in teaching & disabilities experience. Whichever one you are, focus your studies on learning more about what you don’t know, and take your time to do it right.
  • If you have lots of experience teaching riding lessons and owning your own horses, you’re a step ahead. Certification may not take you as long because all you need to do is learn to adapt what you already know to riders with disabilities!

“We remain what we have been trained to be: special education or adaptive physical education teachers, psychologists, recreational therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, riding instructors, vaulting coaches, and so on. But, by working with a special population, we do need to acquire specific knowledge about that population and then apply our skills differently. The equine setting also requires special knowledge and additional training to manage the horse and his environment correctly.” (Engel)

If you’re still not sure whether you should get certified or not, read my post “Should I get Certified?”

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So you’ve decided it’s for you! Check out these links at PATH Intl.’s website about certification.


Option A) attend a PATH Intl. Approved Training Course (ATC): take classes and teach several days a week for several month, pass all the exams, and get recommended for certification. This is only feasible if you live close to the barn or can take time off of life to move to a new place for a while. But the amount of personal training you get sounds incredible. For a list of ATCs go to PATH Intl.’s Calendar’s Search By Category.

Option B) the Workshop and Certification process: study at home, pass all the tests, assistant teach at a barn for 25 hours, then go to a PATH Intl. Workshop and Certification and pass the in-person riding and teaching tests. See The Booklet for PATH Intl.’s information on this.

Like most people I know, I did Option B! The rest of this article explains the Workshop and Certification process and gives my tips and advice.


This is all the same information as found in The Booklet, but with my added tips. There are 2 Phases, but I added a Pre-Phase and Post-Phase!

Pre-Certification (my addition)

Take steps to prepare for certification by actively working at becoming a better rider and teacher.

Read this article for steps you can take to prepare for instructor certification!


  • Research which workshop you want to attend, when and where.
  • Read the info below about the process and how long each step takes.
  • Decide whether you want to do your Workshop and Certification together or separately.
  • Make a plan! Decide when to do each step, phase, Workshop and Certification on the calendar.
  • Improve in areas you need to before starting the process (see “Requirements” above).

Phase 1 – you have 6 months, or else you have to start over

  • Become a PATH member (takes 7-10 days)
  • Instructor Application
    • You need to show proof of PATH membership but you might be able to apply for membership and instructorship at the same time, instead of waiting for your membership card to come and then applying (so I hear)
    • The Booklet is confusing, it says your application is good for 1 year AND Phase 1 components must be completed within 6 months of application. I think this means you have 6 months to complete it, and if you fail any portion, you have 6 more months to do it again and pass. But I’m not sure so give yourself 6 months, not 1 year.
    • If a while has passed and you haven’t heard back from PATH, don’t be afraid to call them to check in and say get me my passwords so I can take the online courses!
  • Adult and Child CPR and basic First Aid Certification
  • Take 3 online classes and exams
    • Pre-Certification Self-Assessment Exam
      • not graded
      • it’s meant to help you! You discover the gaps in your knowledge and therefore can plan what to learn and work on in order to become a competent instructor!
    • Online Standards Course & Exam – valid for 1 year
      • This is a recent change, it used to be the CAT course, so I’m not sure how it goes. For the CAT course I said “Don’t fret about memorizing everything, it’s online so obviously it’s open book, and the test walks you through everything they want you to know and get from the Standards.” But now I don’t have anything to recommend – yet.
    • Instructor Self Study Course – valid for 2 years
    • 180 days
      • Because it’s online, you can totally look up answers in other windows during the tests, but it’s best to actually know the info.
      • Read the books they recommend, because they are really good books!
  • Complete the Equine Management Skills Checklist (in The Application)
  • Find a mentor/instructor to supervise your teaching hours, give you feedback, and help you prepare for certification.
    • This can be any PATH Instructor who is willing to teach you how to teach.
    • This person doesn’t have to have taken a mentor class, but it helps. Just as long as they’re good and know their stuff and the PATH way.
    • Be aware that many barns charge for mentorship and teaching hours.
    • Start with the the barn you’re already volunteering at.
    • Other options including using PATH’s mentor list (sign in to PATH Intl. and search members), or long distance mentoring online (so I’ve heard).
  • Optional:
  • Get your Instructor in Training (IT) standing!
    • After turning in and completing all of the above you are an IT!
    • This takes 7-10 days for the office to process after receiving everything.
    • Again, if it takes a while, don’t be afraid to call PATH and check in.
    • If you don’t get your IT in 1 year you have to start all over again.

Phase 2 – you have 12 months, or else you’ll need to repeat Phase 1

  • Work on 25 hours mounted group teaching
      • must have 2+ students, be mounted, and be under PATH mentor
      • hours are good for 2 years
      • for tips, see LEARNING TO TEACH section below
      • New From PATH Intl: “As of January 1, 2017: Candidates must demonstrate to a PATH Intl. certified riding professional that they have practiced emergency response procedures, including  demonstration of an emergency dismount. If all or part of a candidate’s teaching hours took place BEFORE January 1, they are not required to supply the updated Documentation of Teaching Hours form. If all of a candidate’s teaching hours took place AFTER January 1, they ARE required to supply the updated Documentation of Teaching Hours form.”
      • & “If it is an extreme hardship to obtain 25 hours of teaching therapeutic riding to groups of 2 or more riders, please contact the PATH Intl. office for guidance.”
  • Register for the Workshop & Certification!
    • 1) Contact the Host Site.
    • 2) They will send you registration paper work.
    • 3) Register for the Workshop and send them your IT letter – at least 30 days prior, but try to do it sooner because spots can fill up fast at some hosts.
    • 4) They will send you Phase 2 forms.
    • 5) You will send them your Completed Phase 2 forms – this includes a resume, references, essay questions, documented teaching hours, releases, etc.
  • Optional:
  • Attend Workshop – 2 ½ days (is good for 2 years)
    • during which you learn everything you wish you’d been taught in Phase 1 – I absolutely loved my workshop, it was the best educational experience ever
  • Attend Certification
    • can be at same time as Workshop or later
    • the Certification test has 2 parts:
      • 1) Horsemanship test – in which you ride a pattern
      • 2) Teaching Ability test – in which you teach a class of 2 students with disabilities.
          • You are given information on your students the night before and must write a lesson plan.
          • Before the lesson you turn in your lesson plan.
          • After the lesson you must write a self-evaluation and turn that in.
          • see TIPS FOR THE TEACHING TEST below

There are TWO ways to do Phase 2:

  • 1) First get your practice hours, then take the Workshop and the Certification tests at the same time
    • pros: everything is fresh in your memory when you take the test, because you just took the workshop prior
    • cons: you learn everything you wish you had known for the past howevermany months of practice teaching, during which you potentially learned to teach in a way that is different from what is taught in the workshop and what they want to see for the test
  • 2) First do the Workshop, then get your practice hours, and lastly take the Certification test
    • pros: you learn everything you need to know before doing your practice teaching hours
    • cons: you don’t get a good review right before the test by attending the workshop prior, you don’t get to know the evaluators and what those specific ones are looking for in the tests, and there may be a difference between how you learned to teach at the workshop and how they teach at the barn where you’re doing your practice teaching hours at – therefore you may not get to practice correctly and forget much of what you learned at the workshop
  • Whichever way you do it is up to you, how you learn best, and how much time and finances you have.

Post-Phase – my addition

  • If you passed – Wait with bated breath for your beautiful certificate to come in the mail.
  • If you failed 1 test – Cry. Take time to get better then make a resubmission video.
  • If you failed both tests – Cry. Take time to get better, then in 12 months either 1) get 10 more teaching hours and re-attend a Certification or 2) attend an ATC.


  • Min: 3 months, to give yourself time for office paperwork.
    • I know someone who did it in less, but he already had years of experience teaching able bodies riders.
  • Max: 1 1/2 years (Phase 1 of 6 months + Phase 2 of 1 year)


PATH reports that “The average cost of registration for a PATH Intl. certification workshop and test, which takes place over three days, is $800.” (source)

I can vouch for that! Mine cost much more because I took lessons, bought recommended books, and had to drive long distances for instructor training and the workshop!

When budgeting, factor in paying for:

  • PATH membership – $60 (as of 2015)
  • Instructor application/courses – $60 (as of 2013)
  • CPR & First Aid Training – $85-100 (as of 2013)
  • Books for courses (buy through PATH)
    • PATH Intl. Standards and Accreditation Manual
      • Hard Copy $65 + $12 (shipping) (as of 2013)
      • CD $20 + $7 (shipping) (as of 2013)
      • Online $Free (

        297 pages if printed single sided)

    • PATH Intl. Instructor Education Guide, 2nd Edition (Hard copy) $35 + $9 (shipping) (as of 2013)

  • Books for recommended reading
  • Fee for teaching hours & mentorship
  • Riding Lessons
  • Gas costs
  • Workshop and Certification fees and travel costs


If there’s not center near you, you have 2 options:

  1. Drive really far. It’s a pain, but totally worth it for the in person consistent training and teaching hours.
  2. Find a PATH Intl Mentor who is willing to do long distance mentoring, such as over video, phone, etc.. To find someone who would be willing to mentor you long distance, look through the list of Mentors on PATH Intl’s website here – each Mentor’s profile will indicate whether or not they can do long distance mentoring. When you find a few you think might make a good match, contact them to see if they are interested in taking you under their wing, and what that would look like. Each Mentor’s method may be slightly different for long distance, and some may require you have several visits with them in person. Take your time to find the Mentor and program that’s right for you.
  3. Consider using Hoof Falls & Footfalls Long Distance Mentoring


Refer to these articles I’ve already written:


  • Read Equestrian Special Olympics Coaching Guide
  • Watch other teachers! Take notes and analyze based on the questions from Watching A Therapeutic Riding Lesson.
  • Start a journal writing down down neat lesson plans and things you liked that other teachers did.
  • Do make lesson plans! It may look like the other teachers don’t, but that either means they 1) do it when you’re not looking and remember it in their head, or 2) don’t actually write them because they have gotten so used to lesson planning they can do it in their heads now. You will get there one day. For now, write lesson plans! I have heard top notch instructors say they still write lesson plans for their students.
  • Understand that there are a million ways to do things with horses, and everyone thinks that their way is the right way, and every barn does things a little differently – but with PATH certification, their ways IS the right and safest way. So while not everyone will fit into the PATH box, everyone needs to for the certification. And this is a good thing because it makes your starting place that of safe and effective practices. After you pass, you can go home and expand your style. But for the certification you have to be PATH perfect.
  • First focus on the basics: teaching the lesson in the right order with all your tack checks, good feedback, and how’s and why’s. Once these get ingrained in your head, they will become automatic, and you will feel more comfortable with teaching, and you can be more flexible and handle surprises better and adapt your lesson to unforeseen events easier.

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If you’re discouraged…

  • Read my article Overwhelmed with Instructor Training
  • Persevere! Learning to teach can be REALLY HARD! You might feel like you’re a beginner all over again, because you ARE. You are learning a NEW SKILL and don’t have your back pocket full of tricks yet. THAT’S OKAY because everyone has to start somewhere and it’s the stress that makes us strive to be better. And don’t give up, it WILL get better! What do instructors say? Practice makes perfect! In order to teach your students to overcome challenges, you must first overcome your own. If it’s been a long time since you learned something new, you may have forgotten that is can be uncomfortable, and that’s normal, and okay.
  • Be humble. Learn from your mistakes. Take criticism with a grain of salt. Gonna be honest, the certification process was THE most humbling and sometimes humiliating thing I have every done. It sucks to not feel good at something. But don’t let it drive you to a pity party. Let it drive you to learn from your mistakes and to change and improve.
  • Be kind to yourself. Learning a new skill (teaching kids with disabilities) can be hard enough without you getting discouraged. It takes time. Be kind to yourself.
  • Don’t expect perfection right away. Remember, it takes 6-10 years to master something. Give yourself at least 1 year. If you know any school teachers, you have probably heard that the first year of teaching is the hardest. Well guess what, you’re a teacher now, so that goes for you too! Again, give yourself at least 1 year.
  • If you don’t like teaching TR like you thought you would, give yourself time (1 year, perhaps). Just because you don’t like it NOW when you don’t know what you’re doing, doesn’t mean you won’t like it in a few months or a year when you DO know what you’re doing and are comfortable with it.
  • Personal story time: I knew from previous experience when I taught at a camp that the first year of teaching was awful and hard and I didn’t like it, but the second year it clicked and I was able to enjoy it and branch out. So I remembered this through my certification journey, during which I was nauseous with nerves every single time I had to teach, and often did not even enjoy teaching or feel good at it. And for me it has proved to be true – once I got over the awful hard part, it got better, and now I like it.
  • You need to get used to it being hard and overcoming it because this process continues even after you’re certified – with your first session of teaching, and to some degree with every student you have. The first few lessons will be hard until you get to know them and how to teach them, then it will get better. The first 7 week session I taught was rough, many students regressed, but the second session was great and many improved. As you develop the good habit of perseverence, and grow in skill and knowledge, it will get easier.
  • Give yourself small milestones. The process can seem long and overwhelming, so break it down into pieces and celebrate little victories.
  • Read this for a little perspective.
  • Read this for a little encouragement.
  • Read this about knowing When to Quit

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  • Study!
  • Breathe! My friend taught me this good one to calm anxiety: Breathe in 4 seconds, hold 4 second, breathe out 6 seconds, hold 2 seconds.
  • Visualize your riding test and teaching test going well.
  • Script and practice what you’ll say in the lesson.
  • Remind yourself: if something goes wrong, let it go and move on. You still have every other opportunity to show them what you do know and kick some @$$.
  • Be positive, not self defeating! When I failed my riding test, I realized I could come back and teach my lesson either with an “I’m going to fail” attitude, or an “If I’m going to fail, they’re going to have to take me down kicking and screaming because I’m going to teach the best damn lesson ever” attitude.


General Tips

  • The evaluators want to see that you know the following by demonstrating it in your lesson:how to structure a lesson
    • how to teach a skill
    • how to do task analysis
    • how to give praise and feedback
    • how to direct progression
    • how to communicate with volunteers
    • how to communicate with students
    • how to tailor a lesson to specific students (everything in it must have a purpose)
  • Talk a LOT because the evaluators want to see what you know and you can only do that by showing them – even if that’s not what you would normally do in a lesson, even if the student already knows what you’re telling them. You want to show the judges what you know. If you would normally speak less for a good reason (like a sensory overload student) then mention it in your self evaluation.
  • Narrate everything you are doing, such as “now I’m checking the girth, it’s tight…” because the evaluators are not always looking so they might not see you – but they can hear you.
  • It may help to cut the arena in half to keep the students together and stay closer to the evaluators so they can hear you.
  • EVERYTHING must have a purpose, from who you mount first to what warm-ups you do to which progressions you choose. Everything.
  • Show problem solving, like cutting across the arena early because horse slows down near mounting area, or rearranging horses to keep everyone together, etc.
  • Show safety – if it’s windy, don’t use the noisy end of the arena, if they can’t keep spacing teach them how to pass, etc.
  • Review these posts, because it’s everything else they want to see:

How to Choose Which Skill to Teach

Choosing which skill to teach depends on the riders you are given, because you will need to teach something appropriate to them. At the certification they will give you paperwork about your riders the night before, so you can plan that evening for your class the next day. The paperwork will tell you what your riders’ skill levels are, and often what they are working on. From this you can decide what skill to teach, either something they are already familiar with and need help on, or something new that is the next logical progression. Ones I have seen and heard of being taught are: direct rein steering, two point, posting, posting in the correct diagonal, walk halt walk transitions, and walk trot walk transitions. Note these are skills. You don’t want to teach the serpentine or weaving cones or trot poles, because these are locations and objects where the rider will be demonstrating their skills. The correct skills would be demonstrate direct rein steering through a serpentine or weaving cones, or two point at the trot over poles. The best advice I have heard is to plan several lesson plans for the basic skills (such as those I listed above) so then at the test you already have plans to choose from that will probably fit your riders and will just need a little tweaking.

These are two good example lessons and skills from my workshop that the evaluators did with us:

How to Plan Your Lesson

At my test we had 20 minutes to teach our lesson, including mounting and dismounting. This is because there isn’t enough time for everyone to have 30-45 minute lessons – that would take forever and the evaluators’ brains would explode. Therefore we had to give the evaluators a condensed version of a normal lesson and mention anything we left out in our self evaluation, which was written and turned in after. If your teaching test is also 20 minutes, I recommend the following lesson plan:

  • set up arena
    • don’t use a lot of props, it takes too long to set and clean up, and too long for your students to go through them which prevents you from including progression
    • for example, instead of 5 trail obstacles or an elaborate game with laminated items, do 2 ground poles and a game that requires no props
  • Tack check
  • Mount & Stirrups (5 minutes)
    • Mounting is the ideal time to get your task analysis in, regardless of whether the student already knows how to mount. To not be degrading to the student you can say something like “ok, time to mount. I know you already know how, but I’m going to walk you through it because I need to show the evaluators I know the steps, okay? so let’s go slowly…”
    • You can have your sidewalkers fix stirrups to save time, if you know they know how.
  • Tack check
  • Warm up (3 minutes)
    • cut it shorter than you’d usually do it to save time, and mention additional warm-ups you’d normally do in your self-evaluation later
    • 1 upper body and 1 lower body each direction
  • Teach skill (1 minute) – what, why, how, where
  • Practice skill (6 minutes) – include progression if time
    • add another Tack check somewhere in here
    • if you want to do a game that’s fine, but make sure you’re using it to teach a riding skill because that’s what the evaluators want to see!
  • Cool down (2 minutes)
  • Review and wrap up (1 minute)
  • Dismount (2 minutes) – make sure you’re angled so the evaluators can see you do this
  • loosen girths
  • remember to clean up your arena.

How to write your self-evaluation

  • Write it in paragraph form – at least that’s what my evaluators preferred instead of bullet points.
  • First evaluate the students like you would for a progress note.
    • Include how they mounted, what they did, how much assistance they had for each activity, their strengths and difficulties, and what to work on in their next lesson.
    • I did 1 paragraph for each student.
  • Second evaluate yourself.
    • Include what you think you did well, what you did wrong, what you would do differently if you did it again, and any other thoughts you have.
    • They want to see that you know how to evaluate your teaching and determine improvement to make for next time.
    • Do list things you did wrong. If they aren’t safety or standard issues, you are more likely to pass if you show the evaluators you know what you did wrong, than if they think you didn’t catch it.
  • Also evaluate your riding test
    • When I got certified I didn’t know you could do this but I was later informed you can – so if you did anything wrong, make a note about it! It might help to show you can recognize when things go wrong, what caused it, and what you should have done about it!

Added 2/8/18: Sorry to be so vague…first PATH doesn’t tell you what they want, and second it kinda depends on the evaluators. However, as I was told by my own mentor, evaluate how the lesson went for your riders and for yourself. Within that include strengths, weaknesses, what you would do differently, and what you would work on the next time. It’s important to put the mistakes you noticed you yourself made, because if you don’t, the evaluators will think you didn’t notice it. Most important is that you show you notice where issues lie and are able to come up with a plan to improve  (for both you and your riders). For my personal evaluation I wrote everything possible down in paragraphs. When we had different evaluators at my current barn, they requested no longer than one page and preferred a list. Hopefully your evaluators clarify what they want! I would suggest practicing writing evaluations after each lesson for several lessons to get the hang of it.


About the riding test

  • Purpose
    • The pattern isn’t meant for dressage, but to show them you know how to ride
      • Can have the test called out for you
      • If you make a mistake, fix it
      • Show them what you DO know and do well
    • Give a positive impression
    • Demonstrate a level of skills adequate for teaching at a Registered Level
      • Prove yourself a solid rider at all gaits
      • Balanced secure seat and postural alignment, doesn’t matter what discipline
      • Must be able to control the horse at all gaits
      • Correct aids, not hang on the reins for balance
      • Smooth transitions
      • Bend through the corners and on circles
      • Horse doesn’t have to be on the bit, but needs to be balanced and controlled
      • All disciplines must post and be on the correct diagonal, or if you pick up the incorrect posting diagonal change it to show them you noticed
      • Must demonstrate both canter leads, if you pick up the wrong one come back down to a trot, circle to rebalance, and try again
    • If you want to go above and beyond
      • Show yourself as a trainer to support your instructor role by improving the horse
      • Do half halt or check when needed, to show you know when you need to rebalance
  • The Warmup
    • Appropriate for the pattern and amount of time
    • Show all 3 gaits
    • Use time efficiently
    • Demonstrate safe spacing and knowledge of arena etiquette
    • Incorporate bending and stretching appropriately
    • +Show you know what the horse needs
    • +Make a positive difference in the horse’s response to aids and way of going
  • The Riding Test
    • Good control – don’t cut corners, prompt transitions, correct mistakes, respect for horse
    • Good seat, posture, rein contact, alignment, use of natural aids
    • Impulsion, balanced, obedient way of going
    • Straightness
    • Bending around corners
    • Correct posting diagonal
    • Must hit correct canter leads and posting diagonals
    • Must show ALL components of the pattern
    • +Half halt to improve gait quality
    • +Adapt to show horse at his best – flexion, engagement, etc.

Pattern tips 

The riding test pattern is described in The Booklet. Note that every evaluator is different, so these comments may not apply to all of them, or the ones you have, but this is what I was told, and found it helpful. The following tip #s correspond with step #s in The Booklet’s riding pattern sheet

  • Tack check before mount. (1)
  • Make sure you halt fully. (1)
  • it’s ok to slow your horse to sit the trot. (4)
  • For canter/lope transition, if departs on the wrong lead, bring back down and try again immediately. It’s ok to circle and try again. (5)
  • For the serpentine get in a straight line through the center (like a figure 8, not a figure X) (6)
  • Canter to sitting trot transition should be directly to sitting trot, no posting in between (7 to 8).
  • Sitting trot circle can be big, like a 20 meter. (8)
  • At the end turn on to the quarter line. (9)
  • When backing it is technically correct to check behind you both directions before backing. Make sure to give your horse a release at each step. (11)
  • Dismount safely by taking both feet out of the stirrups. If you have to leave one foot in, leave it in until both legs are on the same side then take it out and slide down – do not leave one foot in a step down to the ground like off a ladder! Then take your reins back over your horse’s head and lead the horse away. (12)
  • If you make a mistake, recover and move on. You have the rest of the test to do well.
  • If you make a mistake, they may give you an opportunity to demonstrate the corrected mistake later, because they want to see what you DO know.
  • During the warm up get in all gaits and transitions, since they judge on this too and if your test doesn’t go so well, a good warm up might help.

Preparing for the riding test

  • Practice the riding test! Practice it over and over and over so you won’t forget it on the day of.
  • Videotape yourself taking the riding test and analyze it, what you look like and need to fix.
  • If you’ve never shown before or get nervous riding in front of evaluators, practice the test in front of people or while being videotaped.
  • Take lessons! Don’t assume just because you know how to ride you’ll pass the test. You should brush up. Also, you learn some important things by taking lessons: how your students feel, teaching methods and attitudes you’d like to incorporate into your own style, and little quips and sayings to put in your own back pocket for teaching
  • Visualize riding the test correctly. Go through it in your mind over and over.


I failed my Certification. Well, I passed the teaching test and failed the riding test, which is ironic because the teaching test was the one I was so worried about. But then again, maybe it’s not ironic. I practiced what I was worried about, and ignored what I thought was in the bag. I thought I already knew how to ride. But that was very prideful of me, and a good lesson in humility. I failed the riding test for many reasons, some within my control and some outside of it. But that’s how the game goes. And I survived and I am better for it, because I took more lessons, improved my riding and teaching, and had a big lesson in humility. Not that I didn’t go home and cry for several days afterward. Anyway, if you fail, remember…

  • Making a resubmission video is way easier than taking the test in person!
  • Life goes on.
  • Now you can relate to your students when they try hard things and fail. And hopefully you will have a story to tell them about trying again and succeeding.

instructor article 2


What was your experience like? Any advice?


Please let me know if any of the information is outdated and needs an updating, or leave a comment below! Thanks!


Note: This is not professional advice, this is a blog. I am not liable for what you do with or how you use this information. The activities explained in this blog may not be fit for every rider, riding instructor, or riding center depending on their current condition and resources. Use your best personal judgement!

48 thoughts on “How to become a Certified Therapeutic Horseback Riding Instructor

  1. Thank you so much for your posts – they are amazing! I feel like I have a much better understanding now of what goes on during the OSWC and all of your tips were great. Please keep the posts going – they are so helpful and a joy to read!

  2. Thank you for all of your posts! You have been a lifesaver. I’m only in the beginning stages of Phase 1, while simultaneously teaching lessons ( Your “Option 1”) and I already feel like quitting. You have helped to clarify a lot and made me feel reassured that I’m not the only one who has struggled! Thanks again 🙂

    • I’m so glad to be of help! The struggle is why I started this blog 🙂 Good for you for starting teaching during Phase 1, you’ll have plenty of time to get good! It’s a lot to learn, but if you’re willing, each time you get a little better. Best of luck to you! p.s. thinking about the struggle inspired me to add a few things to this post, so check out the updates under the Teaching info part.

  3. The best advice someone gave me for the workshop was when you participate in the mock lesson during the workshop, volunteer to be the instructor. You will get personalized feedback from the evaluators and know what you need to fix for the test! In my case, I was talking too much and too softly and not teaching to the group (mainly from nerves) – and I was able to fix it the next day.

    Thank you so much for doing this blog! I would have loved to have it going through my certification. The PATH website is very confusing at times.

    • Thank you so much for adding this great advice, I totally forgot to! I too volunteered to be the instructor and it was really helpful for feedback and to get my initial nerves at teaching in front of evaluators out of the way – it made the real test much less nerve wracking!

  4. Oh! I would also advise – if you can find a center that will let you teach under supervision before applying for your certification, do it. I had over 300 supervised teaching hours under my belt before I went in to the certification – and there were people at my certification who had gotten their teaching hours mostly doing warm-ups and cool-downs and were at a severe disadvantage. As long as it is supervised, and you have enough volunteer hours (determined by your center) and a good mentor, you can start getting teaching practice before you apply. The more comfortable you are, the better. 25 teaching hours is not enough to make it second nature.

    • I agree, 25 hours isn’t enough to get comfortable unless you’re an experienced riding instructor. The more hours you can teach, and the more different types of kids you can teach, the better!

    • i agree with you too. But here’s what helped me to be more confident in my recent certification. I had 5 riding skills under my belt just for that one 20 minute certification test. (walk/halt transition, direct rein, and so forth). That way, regardless of the students I was assigned to the night before, I could teach one of those skills along with a progression. (Keep it Simple) Reading the student’s profiles, the riding skill choice for the 2 riders just all fell naturally into place as did the lesson plan, course, etc. Now DOING IT was another matter under so much stress – but it was a success and I passed 🙂 Hope that helps.

      • That is a really great plan that I hadn’t heard of yet – planning several general lesson plans that almost anyone could fit into! Thanks for sharing!

  5. How long did it take to hear back from PATH once your video was submitted and how many attempts are you allowed within what frame of time ?

    • Hi there! The PATH Intl website says you have 12 months to resubmit, and you have 2 tries, and it takes 45-60 days to hear back from them. It actually took even longer for me to hear back from them for some reason – my boss at the time had to call the office and get on their tail about it.

  6. What a great service you are doing for future instructors! Wish I had seen this site when I was getting certified. I would recommend that people plan on teaching an actual riding skill as opposed to playing a game or doing an obstacle course as mentioned in your section on “planning your lesson”. The judges at my workshop in 2013 specifically asked us not to include these in our lesson and I think they have gotten more strict on this in recent years. Props can be used, but only if they aid in the actual teaching of the skill. Of course we all use them in our normal classes, but PATH is certifying instructors to be able to teach riders of all skill level therefore they want to see that you know how to execute and teach a riding skill. Thanks for putting this info out there. I’m sharing your site with everyone that I mentor.

    • Hi Jude, Thanks so much for your kind words, tips on certification, and sharing the blog! I’m glad it’s helpful!

  7. Your post is awesome. My good friend took this route after leaving the traditional job search alone and going forward with her dreams and passions: animals (particularly horses) and helping people. She graduated with a masters (like me) about two years ago. She was so thankful that she will be getting certified soon and living her dreams.

    • Thank you! I’m glad to hear your friend is pursuing her dreams and getting certified! Best of luck to you both!

  8. How long did it take to complete the CAT and self study exams? They give a significant amount of time to complete both. but is it possible for them to be completed in a month or two? I don’t know how difficult they are.
    Also, I’m wanting to be certified, I’m physically able to do all that would be required of me as an instructor, but my legs are not fully aligned correctly. It’s called “Miserable Malalignment Syndrome”. It affects is me in posting. My joints always gave out when I tried forcing them to post on horse, then I would be in pain. I understood riding and what I was supposed to do but I really don’t know if I can even post at all. I posted 3 good posts till my joints uncontrollably gave out. I volunteered at PATH Intl center before and was physically fine on my feet working in a arena and barn. I’m afraid I’ll get to the riding demonstration and fail over that one thing. After being evaluated yourself, do you think the evaluators would be more understanding if I present them proof of my condition or do you think they are more firm on all the rules that It wouldn’t be acceptable to them?
    I’ve been trying to figure it all out. I figured it would be nice to just hear another opinion 🙂
    well thanks!

    • Hi A-Tay,
      Thanks for writing! I do not think the CAT and Self Study exams take that long. They give a lot of time but I took a day or two only. I did take a few weeks to prepare before starting the online test, becoming familiar with the standards and looking up horse info I was unfamiliar with, but when it comes down to it, it is open book and you can look it up when you take it. The CAT exam helped me learn the standards even better.
      As for taking the riding test with your diagnosis, you can ask for an accommodation. Page 12 in the 2014 Registered Instructor Booklet says the following (from
      “How do I get an accommodation? An accommodation is an adjustment or an adaptation of a component or components of the Registered Instructor Certification Process in order to meet the special needs of the candidate. Requests for an accommodation to any part of the process must be made in writing and submitted to the PATH Intl. office with the initial application form or 60 days prior to OSWC. All requests for accommodations will be reviewed by the PATH Intl. Riding Certification Subcommittee on an individual basis and applicants will be notified of the committee’s decision. For more information please contact the PATH Intl. office.”
      I hope that helps! Best of luck with the process and let me know if you have any more questions!

    • I only know of one other instructor who had a disability her legs and she had a tough time passing – but she eventually did. Best thing to do is print up a hard copy of both tests first – take your time and then when finished, mark the correct answers on line and submit. If you fail, it’s only $10 to re-take. Regarding your question of the riding portion of the certification process – I would call PATH and ask them that question. Then when you’re ready for certification, have the center inform the evaluators and request a nice balanced sitting trot instead – maybe show them you know at least KNOW how to post on the correct diagonal first.

  9. I am taking my registered instructor certification for the SECOND time in February, this is exactly what I need to review! Thanks!

  10. Thanks so much for this information! I just started researching TR because I am currently in college working towards my degree in Special Education. I’ve grown up with a passion for horses and horseback riding, so I just recently thought about putting the two together! Your information definitely gave me the best idea on what goes into certification. Thanks again so much!

    • You’re welcome! Thank you so much for taking the time to let me know. Combining your degree and passion is definitely do-able. I wish you all the best with whatever direction you pursue!

    • Hi, good question! The host center provides horses for you. They select the horse for you based on a form you fill out in the phase 2 packet. Some allow a practice ride the day before and switching horses if desired. Most centers will also allow you to bring your own horse for the testing, you contact the center about this. They may has special requirements such as a Coggins or paying a stall fee.

  11. I have a BA in n psychology and have been taking riding lessons for seven years. The reason I began riding was due to an injury that made me lose my pituitary gland, yes amazingly enough my doctors have me on medications that keep me able bodied. Before this happened I had started teaching by going through a program in Texas that certified me in Special Education as well. My question is whether or not it is necessary to have a Masters degree or if I can take the PATH program with just having my Bachelors?

    • Hi Susan, PATH Intl has no prerequisites of what degree you have to have to get certified with them to teach therapeutic riding. I have known high schoolers that go through the certification process and get certified as soon as they turn 18. There are a few colleges that now have degrees in therapeutic riding that prepare you for certification and program management, but they are not through PATH nor required by PATH. so you are fine with your Bachelors for the registered instructor certification. Some specialty certifications like mental health require that you have certain training but I am not as informed about those. The PATH Intl website lists the requirements for each one. Hope that helps!

  12. This is absolutely amazing! Thank you so much for writing this! It really helps lay everything out! I just applied for my Instructor training and I was wondering about the CPR & First Aid certification. I cant find anything about what course to take or from what company to take it from on PATH’s website. Thank you again so much!

    • You’re welcome, so glad it can help! They do require that the CPR/First Aid be in person, not online, so look for a course near you. I just search online. Best of luck!!

  13. I’m in phase 2 of my certification and am busy working on the pattern. I’ve watched videos of people riding the pattern and have a question about reins while riding Western. Many of the videos show people direct reining. I’d prefer to take my test Western so want to verify that this is an acceptable way for me to hold my reins.

    Thanks for this site. I’m always checking in and reading.

    • From what I understand, if you ride western the way you hold the reins depends on the bit. If the horse is in a snaffle bit, he should be ridden with two reins, direct reining. If he is in a curb bit, he should be ridden one handed. You can always ask the evaluators at your workshop, too! Also, the center you certify at will tell you how the horse is ridden that you have been assigned to.

  14. Do you mind if I quote a couple of your articles as long as I provide
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  15. Thank you for sharing this information. I am not sure if I will get PATH certified (though you certainly have laid out everything and given encouraging words to those who are trying). I am actually finishing my Masters in Occupational Therapy this week and will be preparing to take my Reg Exam at the end of the month. Our last project in an OT Management course was to make a Business Plan for any type of Occupational Therapy facility. I chose to do mine on hippotherapy and named my facility “Healing Hooves.” I have always had an interest in animal assisted therapy especially in therapeutic riding. I have family with horses, and I have often told my cousin one day we will open up our own OT facility with hippotherapy involved. Hey, you never know! I just wanted to say thank you for the very detailed and excellent information. You really put the time and effort in this and I know many will benefit as I have.

  16. Very good site you have here but I was curious about if you knew of any community forums that cover the same topics talked about here?

    I’d really love to be a part of group where I can get
    suggestions from other experienced people that share the same interest.
    If you have any recommendations, please let
    me know. Thanks a lot!

    • Hello, there are forums through PATH Intl on their website, called “Community Connections”. There are also a few Yahoo groups still left. Those are the only ones I know of so far!

  17. This was such a great and informative read, thank you!!! Any idea how I can get certified if I live in Ireland? I know you mentioned long distance mentoring but would I still have to travel to America to take the tests?

    • Hi Aisling! That is a good question. The online learning and distance mentoring can be done where you are, but I’m not sure about the workshop and testing. There are tests held internationally so you may be able to find one closer to you than America. If you had enough people wanting to get certified in your area, you could work together to hold a workshop an test yourself, bringing in evaluators to run it. PATH Intl has a page with little information but the contacts might be able to help you more: Sorry I don’t know much about this! I would recommend contacting PATH Intl directly about it. Good luck!

  18. Hi! I stumbled upon this article when trying to look into how to become a certified therapeutic riding instructor. I’m currently a college student who is majoring in psychology, but college is… expensive, and this is what I would ultimately want to do after school anyways; is finishing my degree even worth it if I could do it without a degree? I don’t have a ton of experience with horses, though…

    • Hi there! I personally think it’s always good to have a college degree, and there are so many things you can learn at college that you can’t learn in the field of therapeutic riding but that will help toward your career in it – such as psychology, human development, and business management. It’s true you can do this job without a degree, and you can always go back and get your degree later, but I think people do look at your education when hiring and it sometimes can affect your payrate. If you don’t have a lot of experience with horses, I would say that is a major requirement and if you can gain it on the side while at college, or even through the school, that would be ideal. You can even get involved at a program and get certified WHILE in college and then make the decision. I hope that helps!

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