Back in the Saddle: Part 3 – Therapeutic Riding Instructor

Welcome back! This is the third post in the Back in the Saddle Blog Series. If you missed either the introduction or the piece about Mini Horse Outreach, I invite you to read them here.

Today, we’re talking with Anora Snyder, Program Director and PATH Intl. Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor at Cincinnati Therapeutic Riding and Horsemanship (CTRH). Please join me in welcoming her to the blog.

Hey, Anora! Thank you for taking time to chat. How did you get started in equine therapy?

I first became involved in equine therapy the summer of 2008 when I came to the Cincinnati area during
a summer break between semesters in college. I already had a background riding and training horses,
and I was looking for something to be involved with for the summer. CTRH was close by so I signed up to
be a volunteer. I assisted with recreational riding classes and hippotherapy sessions as a side walker or a
leader depending on what help was needed.

I went back to college in Maryland at the end of the summer. I was not consistently involved in any
equine therapy programs, but I had an interest in learning more about the use of horses for therapeutic
purposes; not just for individuals with disabilities but also for individuals with mental health concerns.
During my graduate studies, I wrote many research papers on the benefits of using horses in therapy

I had an interest in learning more about the use of horses for therapeutic purposes; not just for individuals with disabilities but also for individuals with mental health concerns.

I eventually came back to live in the Cincinnati area and began volunteering at CTRH again in the spring
of 2019. I assisted as a side walker or leader in recreational riding and hippotherapy sessions then
also had the opportunity to help work with some of the horses that needed more training. It wasn’t until
2022 that I pursued getting my certification as a Therapeutic Riding Instructor and then a year later
became the Program Director.

What is required to become a PATH Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor (CTRI)?

Start the application process accessible from the PATH Intl. website. The application consists of five parts
that must all be completed before submitting. Once the application is submitted, it will be reviewed. If all
parts of the application are approved, you must then schedule an exam date with a Pearson center to
take a proctored multi-choice exam. You must pass the exam to receive your certification.

Could you give us an idea for what is required in each of those five parts mentioned?

I’ll summarize with information directly from the PATH Application paperwork to give you an idea of the requirements. Steps may have alternative ways to satisfy requirements. Please refer to the PATH website for complete details.

Part I

Applicants must provide evidence of horse handling skills “with a minimum of 30 hours of acceptable equine handling experience. Acceptable experience includes paid or volunteer time engaged in equine management or handling under the supervision of a PATH Intl. Certified Professional.”

Part II

Applicants must provide documentation of equine management skills. They must “successfully demonstrate competence in equine management and handling verified by a PATH Intl. Certified Professional with a minimum of 120 cumulative career hours of experience in equine management.”

Part III

To satisfy Part III requirements, applicants must submit a video – a demonstration of riding instruction and the communication of riding skills.

Part IV

Applicants need to “provide documentation of 25 hours of volunteer experience working with people with disabilities in a therapeutic riding lesson (leader, sidewalker or instructor’s aide). They may alternatively “provide documentation of 25 hours working in an environment interacting with individuals
with special needs (cognitive, behavioral, and/or physical), outside of a therapeutic riding setting to whom the applicant is not related.”

Part V

To satisfy Part V requirements, applicants must submit “documentation of 25 total hours of experience teaching mounted therapeutic riding under the supervision of a PATH Intl. CTRI with at least 120 hours of experience teaching therapeutic riding lessons. The 25 hours must include:

  • a minimum of 13 hours teaching therapeutic riding groups of 2 or more riders and a maximum of 12 hours teaching individual/private therapeutic riding lessons?
  • a minimum of 3 hours teaching therapeutic riding to groups of 2 or more riders utilizing three volunteers per rider
  • one lesson must practice emergency dismounts.

In addition to satisfying these five steps, applicants must complete a course in First/Aid CPR and a PATH exam titled Standard Course. They need to sign and submit a PATH Intl. Certified Professional Code of Ethics and then pass a scheduled proctored exam at a Pearson center.

Thank you for explaining the process. Okay, so now you’ve passed the exam, you’re set start, and riders are registering for your classes. How do you design/plan a session lesson? What does a typical session lesson look like?

There is typically some level of structure in a lesson plan such as identifying what to teach and how to
teach it as well as identifying why you are having rider’s practice certain skills. When I am designing a
lesson plan, I think of the riders I am going to be teaching.

  • What are their current skills?
  • What skills could be developed further or need to be practiced more?
  • What new skills could I teach them?

I then think of patterns that I could create using items that we have on hand such as ground poles, cones, or barrels that will help the rider’s practice and develop their skills. Not every lesson is always heavily skills focused. Sometimes I will incorporate seasonal or themed games that still involve having the riders use their skills but in a fun way. When the weather is nice, I like to take the riders outside on short trail rides. Although they may not realize it, they have to practice balancing as their horse navigates uneven terrain. I also teach them to be mindful of distancing between their horse and the horse in front of them as well as the horse behind them.

What is your favorite part of your job as a CTRI?

I enjoy learning what each rider is really capable of. We have a foundation of skills we teach each individual, and it is fun when you can see that they understand how to use those skills and become independent riders that need minimal to no assistance from their volunteers. Some riders will need more assistance than others. Finding out what their strengths are and what they enjoy most about riding helps me provide more individualized learning experiences, so they can leave a lesson feeling good about what they are accomplishing each time they are in the saddle and riding their horse. I find it rewarding when I can help a rider grow as a horseman or horsewoman and really reach their full potential as a rider.

What is your least favorite part of your job as a CTRI?

Sometimes as an instructor you can encounter a more challenging rider that does not want to follow
through with instructions or pay attention during class. I like for everyone to have fun and enjoy class,
but I do have to occasionally be firm and correct unsafe behaviors. It is ideal if riders and volunteers
listen to correction the first time – it’s not fun when you have to continually address the same concern
multiple times.

From an instructor’s perspective, what benefits does equine therapy offer a rider? A rider’s family?

Many of our riders look forward to their weekly lesson, and it is one of the highlights of their week.
Regardless of what the rider’s disability is when they are on their horse, most of them feel empowered
and accomplished because they can steer their horse through obstacles, walk around the trails, and trot
in the ring. There are also many instances where a rider will think he or she cannot do a specific task but,
with some encouragement and support, they will try and succeed and then feel proud of themselves.
Riders will also develop a bond with one or more horses that they ride. Most riders have a favorite
horse here at CTRH, and if they were having a bad day or a not so great week, when they come and see their horse, they already start to feel better and focus on the present moment. The horses can provide a sense of comfort and connection to the riders.

Do you have any tips or tricks you care to share that you’ve found helpful when working with riders who may be uninterested, noncompliant, or scared and nervous?

I find that riders who are scared or nervous tend to need more reassurance and support. They may be
nervous that the horse will go fast or that they will fall off. Typically, verbal assurance and an
explanation of the roles of their sidewalkers and leaders is often enough to begin easing their
nervousness. I also like to teach all the riders I work with to take a deep breath in and exhale out when
they are feeling scare or nervous. We will practice taking these breaths before we even begin to mount
the horses and then we will again practice deep breaths during our warm up on the horses. I will point
out to the riders that the horses will often feel them take that deep breath, and the horse will then also
take a breath with their rider. It is important that the rider feels comfortable on the horse, but there is
also a balance of knowing when you can start to push the rider out of their comfort zone.

It is important that the rider feels comfortable on the horse, but there is also a balance of knowing when you can start to push the rider out of their comfort zone.

I find that a rider who is uninterested or noncompliant can be more challenging to work with compared
to a rider who is nervous or scared. When working with an uninterested rider, I have tried learning what horse they like best or what activities they like best and will keep those things in mind when designing a lesson plan. Sometimes you have to exaggerate the excitement of what will be worked on during the lesson and how the horse has been waiting to see the rider all day. In some instances, this can be enough but sometimes you will find that a rider may simply be uninterested in riding no matter what you do and therefore this is not the best fit for a recreational activity. Horses and riding are not for everyone and that is okay.

Horses and riding are not for everyone and that is okay.

When working with a rider who is noncompliant, I like to make sure I have a good team of volunteers paired with that rider. Chances are they will need to be my eyes during the lesson and be prepared to make corrections or notify me as soon as something happens that I need to step in and correct. I have not yet encountered a rider who was so noncompliant that one firm correction didn’t address an issue. But, in situations where the safety of the rider or other riders is at risk, there do need to be consequences for noncompliance. If there were to be continual noncompliance, this could also lead to a discussion with the parents/caregiver/guardian or the rider to identify further strategies that could be used when working with the rider.

Please describe what qualities, personality traits, or quirks, your all-time favorite horse possessed or possesses?

One of my favorite horses at CTRH is happiest when she is used in our Hippotherapy program for some
of the smaller, younger riders. What I like about her is that she is very attentive to her rider and their
balance on her back. If she feels her rider shift off to the left or right on her back she will slow down or
stop without prompting from her leader so that the rider can adjust their position. When she has a rider,
who is able to steer and provide more direction, she will listen to her rider but also keep an eye on her
leader. She will also develop a bond with her rider the more they ride her and she will want to nuzzle
them and say hi after they have dismounted.

Thank you for spending time with us, Anora. You do a phenomenal job providing the best experience for the riders and their families.