The Intake Assessment

I recently had a reader ask me about Intake Assessments. I thought this would be a good opportunity to open it up for discussion! The following is information I’ve compiled from my PATH Intl. Instructor Certification Workshop, an article in STRIDES Spring 2011 “The Assessment Process”, and the Preparatory TRI Course at

Please leave comments and examples of what your center does for their new rider intakes in the comments section below!

The Intake Assessment

Purpose of Intake Assessment

  • To be sure you can truly benefit that student with the appropriately trained instructor, volunteers and horses to meet the rider’s specific needs.

Update 9/17/2019: What is the intake assessment? My definition:

The intake assessment is the initial evaluation of a possible new participant to A) make sure that you can accept the rider into your program, aka that you have the appropriate resources (facilities, instructor, volunteers, horse, and adaptations) to provide them with beneficial services; B) to help you make the most beneficial lesson decisions (instructor, volunteers, horse, adaptations, timing, goals, objectives, lesson plans, skills to teach, etc.), and C) set a baseline status of participant abilities and riding skills from which to measure progress.

Intake Assessment includes

  1. collect information – paperwork, including medical evaluation, to be reviewed beforehand
  2. center evaluation – in person at the barn
  3. results analysis

1) Collection Information

  • Purpose: gives you a picture of the person as a whole
  • Do this via your center’s new rider paperwork
  • Include:
    • Name, DOB, Age, Diagnosis, Height, Weight, Ambulatory Status, Adaptive Equipment Required
    • Medical History/Comments – Surgeries/dates, Medications, Precautions/Contraindications, Seizures/type, Other therapies and frequency
    • Family Information – in group home, lives with parents, siblings, etc.
    • Rider/Parent’s goals

2) Center Evaluation – In Person

  • Purpose: use tasks to evaluate how they will handle themselves in class, how they follow direction, how they process verbal directions, how well they cooperate, how much assistance is needed, range of motion, muscle tone, balance, etc.
  •  Things to look for – assign tasks to evaluate the following:
    • 1) Social Skills – Eye contact, Follows commands, Attention Span, Cooperation, Interaction with Others
    • 2) Cognition – Attention Span, Recognition, Letters , Numbers, Colors, Shapes, Concepts, Distractibility, Problem Solving Skills
    • 3) Oral Motor/Language Skills – Lip closure, Drooling Receptive, Expressive, Assistive technology
    • 4) Sensorimotor – Sensory impairments – Vision (tracking, etc.), Hearing (aids, defensiveness), Tactile (hyper/hyposensistivies), Vestibular, Proprioceptive) – Body Awareness, Postural Security, Coordination (Fine/Gross Motor), Crossing Midline, Hand Dominance, Grasp/Release
    • 5) Range of Motion – Upper Extremities (Right/Left), Lower Extremities (Right/Left)
    • 6) Strength – Upper Extremities (Right/Left), Lower Extremities (Right/Left), Trunk (Upper/Lower), Postural Alignment
    • 7) Tone – Upper Extremities, Trunk, Lower Extremities, Reflex Activity
  • Examples of Tasks:
    • Floor to stand, Stand on one leg, Walk on level surface and uneven surface, Skipping, Crossing Midline, Playing with cones, colors, numbers, etc., Climb stairs, Walk up incline, Transfers, Sitting, Standing, Walk/run, Dress self, Feed self, Behavior planning, Try something hard and get frustrated
  • The Intake
    • Try to have another professional with you – Certified Instructor, Mental Health Professional, PT/OT/SLP
    • In advance, review all paperwork and conversations with parents/guardians. From this decide whether to have a mounted/riding or unmounted/grooming session.
    • Be prepared with alternative activities if the original plan doesn’t work due to behavior/attitude/strength/etc.
    • Remember to do the assessment activities at the rider’s pace – everything is new so they may need breaks to process.
    • First introduce yourself; Then do a series of activities to see their level of knowledge, social skills, communication; Lastly ride – on a barrel or a real horse.
    • Introductions, Shake Hands, Give a Tour
      • Observe: Walking on even/uneven surfaces, Posture, Pelvic mobility, Gravitational security, Curiosity, Eye contact interaction with others, Level of independence, Language skills, Hearing, Visual acuity/tracking
    • Interactions/Games
      • Observe: numbers, letters, colors, handwriting, attention span
      • My workshop recommended doing some activities on the ground first, like stacking toys, playing with rings, etc.
    • Try on helmet
      • Observe: Body awareness, range of motion, gross/fine motor skills, following directions, cooperation, attention span, tactile/sensory issues, cognition, problem solving skills
    • Introduce Horses and Volunteers
      • Observe: Response to strangers and new situations, comfort around horses
    • Ramp/Mounting Block
      • Observe: walking up incline/stairs, how handle heights, gravitational security
    • Mount with Reins & Stirrups
      • Observe: Body awareness, following directions, grasping concepts, coordination, proprioceptive/vestibular level, range of motion, muscle tone, posture and alignment, fine/gross motor skills, hand dominance, grasp/release, trunk stability, reflex activity
      • My workshop recommended using a barrel, not a real horse, if you were unsure about the participant
    • Also include discussion about
      • Daily living activities (dressing, feeding, grooming)
      • Behavior (impulse control, frustrations, motivators, behavior plan)
      • Communication (assistive technologies)
      • Availability (schedule)
      • Heat/Weather Sensitivities/Allergies
      • Precautions/Contraindications
  • = ALL of these will tell you something about how the person will be on a horse!

3) Results Analysis

  • Purpose: use the evaluation to determine whether the center has the right…
    • instructor who is familiar with the rider’s disability
    • volunteers who are familiar with the rider’s disability, and who are a good fit in age and personality (depending on whether the rider needs an authority figure or friend)
    • facility and environment to meet the rider’s disability – the right activity (TR, hippotherapy, driving, etc.), indoor/outdoor arena, temperature, etc.
    • horse – temperament, gait, width, height, weight, weight limit, etc.
  • On the evaluation sheet you fill out, also include:
    • Whether or not the applicant is accepted and why
      • Note: If precautions, proceed with care, research, and physician help. If contraindication, cannot ride but doesn’t mean never, just not right now – risk should never outweigh benefit
      • Examples of non-eligible participants:
        • Weight and unavailability of horses or unmounted acitivites
        • Issues regarding mistrust around animals or abuse make it inappropriate and unsafe for the participant to have direct contact with animals
    • Recommendations for
      • placement in the schedule
      • instructor
      • activity type – riding skills, hippotherapy, vaulting, driving, groundwork, grooming, individual, group
      • horse type
      • leader
      • # sidewalkers
      • Mount type
      • Dismount type
      • Tack and equipment
      • Short term goals
      • Long term goals
      • Other

Exit Interview

If the rider is eligible to participate in the program, you should now discuss:

  • Discuss pertinent info you gathered from the assessment
  • Be direct about whether the participant meets the eligibility criteria, and whether the center can meet their needs
  • If they are accepted, review:
  • Program schedule
  • Session availability
  • Cost of session
  • Payment/scholarship options
  • Policies – absences, attire, behavior, dismissal, payment
  • Schedule a start date

At my center we fill out a form after the Intake and keep it in the rider’s file. My center was kind enough to let me share a list of what information we have on this form: 

  • PALS Pre-Riding Assessment Form
  • Name of Participant
  • DOB
  • Diagnosis
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Mobility:
  • Independent Ambulation (  ) Y  (  )  N
  • Assisted Ambulation  (  ) Y (  ) N
  • Wheelchair    (  ) Y  (  ) N
  • Summary of Participant
  • Special Considerations/Needs
  • Precautions/Contraindications
  • Recommended Equipment
  • Recommended Mounting Procedures
  • Recommended Horse Type
  • Recommended Class Format (private, group)
  • Volunteer Needs
  • Instructor Name
  • Date of Assessment
  • Instructor Signature/Date

How does your center do intake? Can you share your intake form with us? Anything else you want to add?

P.S. Check out this follow up post! “Intake Assessment II”


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!


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