Riding Instructor The Buzz


If you were to walk into Lanie Frick's barn, you might see her talking to a horse.

Well, not literally. But through eye contact and body language, this riding instructor has found it is possible to understand the language that horses speak.

Frick grew up on a working cattle ranch in rural Missouri. She feels that if you can communicate with your horse, riding it can become second nature.

And this could ultimately result in better job prospects for riding instructors.

Riding instructors educate horse enthusiasts in several areas, including recreational and trail riding, competition, horse ownership, dressage, training and western riding. They have a sound understanding of horse care and stable management. And they often have experience and qualifications to back that up.

There are many opportunities for horse riders and instructors in Canada and the United States, says Julie Goodnight. She is the program director of the Certified Horsemanship Association. "There are jobs in breeding, training and teaching as well as journalism, marketing, science and retail."

Some of the best opportunities are in self-employment, she says -- particularly in horse training, riding instruction and dressage. Dressage involves training a horse in obedience, so that the animal responds to the precise movements of the rider.

There also are self-employment opportunities as a farrier (blacksmith) or horseshoer, Goodnight says. "Many horse owners are looking for trainers or instructors to come to their own barn and help them with horses," she says.

Goodnight is a clinician who teaches natural horsemanship, reining, pleasure riding, dressage, jumping and instructor certification. Goodnight grew up on a horse farm. She has always had a passion for horses. But getting into the business has not been without its challenges.

"The overhead costs are very high, and the equipment and facility needed to be in the horse business are very expensive," she says.

"There is an old saying in the horse industry: the best way to make a million bucks in the horse business is to start with five million."

But the payoffs of working outside, working with animals and pursuing a sport she loves far outweigh the obstacles, she says.

Ticket to Ride

Those interested in entering the field of riding should begin with lessons, Goodnight advises. "Take riding lessons and be driven to be the best rider you can be. Read as many books as possible on horse training and horse behavior. Attend clinics and seminars to get experience with as many different professionals as possible."

A good start is getting certified, she says.

There are many ways to become certified as a rider. One way is through the National Riding Instructor Seminar (NRIS), offered through the American Riding Instructor Certification Program.

The NRIS is a program of lectures, discussions and networking sessions with some of the most well-known horse professionals.

Therapeutic Riding

A growing area in the equine industry is therapeutic riding.

Therapeutic riding promotes the cognitive, physical, emotional and social well-being of people with disabilities. Through therapeutic riding, the quality of life for children and adults with physical and cognitive challenges can be improved. That's according to the Ontario Equestrian Federation (OEF).

"The physical benefits of riding therapy are the result of the rider's response to the horse's movement," explains Andrea McGill. She is the program coordinator with the OEF.

"As the horse is walking, the motion imparted to the rider is similar to normal walking. The swinging, repetitive motion improves balance, coordination, strength and muscle tone, while gently mobilizing the joints."

But riding therapy offers more than physical benefits, she says. Cognitive impairments are addressed through instructions in stable management and riding skills. In learning how to ride, a person with disabilities learns to meet and overcome challenges. It also instills confidence and improves self-esteem, she says.

There are more than 30 accredited therapeutic riding centers in her area, she adds. But because of the low number of therapeutic riding facilities, there are a limited number of employment opportunities, she says.

Strut Your Stuff

Frick has seen the horse industry grow over the years, especially in the recreational field. "There are more people buying horses for the first time today than ever before," she says. "The future looks good for the industry as long as there is a place for people to have and ride horses."

Goodnight also expects the horse business will continue to be strong. That's thanks to baby boomers -- those born between 1946 and 1964. "Many boomers are retiring and becoming active in horse sports, both as a hobby and as a second career," she says.

Giddy-Up

While there are opportunities for self-employment in horse riding, most people who ride do so for pleasure, says Jessica Jahiel. She teaches holistic horsemanship.

Holistic horsemanship teaches the rider to deal with every aspect of the horse. This includes nutrition, dressage, riding dialog and sports psychology.

"The world is full of people who ride for pleasure, for sport and for exercise," says Jahiel. "A few ride for art -- and yes, there are a very few who do ride for a living.

"But most of those depend on other work and other sources of income as well as on what they make from their riding. Even people at the very top of their sport -- famous show-jumpers, eventers and the like -- generally depend for the most part on family money or sponsorship."

Learn how to ride, get certified and love what you do. That's the advice offered by most professionals in the business.

But above all, learn how to communicate with the horse.

"Whatever the discipline, riding level or breed, my most important goal is to make it easier for horses and riders to understand and enjoy each other," says Jahiel. "It's essential that riders learn to establish a riding dialog. Riders need to learn to listen to their horses and hear them more accurately."

Links

American Riding Instructors Association
Promotes safe riding instruction

American Horse Council
A federation of horse people

Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center
Organization offering therapeutic Riding programs for children, youth and adults with physical and/or developmental disabilities