PATH Certification Cost and How to Become a Therapeutic Riding Instructor
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If you’re looking for a rewarding career that allows you to spend time with horses while helping people, consider a job as a therapeutic riding instructor. As an instructor, you’ll provide equine-assisted therapy to help children and adults with physical, cognitive and emotional challenges.
To work as a therapeutic riding instructor, you’ll likely need to get certified through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH International), a nonprofit that serves about 8,000 members worldwide.
If you need to get your PATH certification, here’s what you need to know about the process and its costs.
- PATH certification cost
- How to become a therapeutic riding instructor
- Therapeutic riding instructor certification options
- How to pay for certification
- The bottom line
PATH certification cost
With PATH equine therapy certification, there are three levels: Registered, Advanced and Master.
According to Kaye Marks, director of marketing and communications with PATH, the organization recently transitioned to a new certification process.
“We’ve been accredited by an independent credentialing agency — the National Council [for] Certifying Agencies,” she said. “We’re the first therapeutic riding organization to go through a credentialing body. It protects consumers; they’re able to know that people offering PATH services have undergone stringent testing.”
For the Registered level — the first level a riding instructor can reach — the following average costs apply:
- Application fee: $150
- Standards exam: $20
- Certification exam: $525
- Travel expenses: $100
- Hotel expenses: $90
The standards exam covers the guidelines established by PATH for the practice and teaching of equine-assisted activities and therapies. The certification exam is a two-day, in-person event that evaluates your horsemanship and teaching abilities.
You may accrue additional costs beyond the figures listed above. If you decide to buy the printed instructor education guide, for example, you’ll have to spend an additional $95. Or, if you have to travel a greater distance, you may have to pay more for flights or gas. And while some students opt to study on their own, others decide to go through a PATH-approved training course, which can cost more than $4,000 on top of the other certification costs.
You do need to be able to work with horses and demonstrate your riding ability to become a Registered instructor. If you’re not a strong rider, you’ll likely need to take riding lessons, which can be an added expense.
If you intend to become an Advanced instructor, average costs — not including travel — are $1,200. You can only become an Advanced instructor after achieving the Registered level, so it’s an additional cost on top of you what you originally spent to be certified.
The Master level is an elite certification. According to Marks, there are only about 80 people who have achieved this level. You can expect to spend an average of $1,000, not including travel, to finish the Master certification. Again, that’s in addition to the money you spent achieving the Registered and Advanced certifications.
How to become a therapeutic riding instructor
Becoming a therapeutic riding instructor isn’t easy. It’s an involved and strenuous process that requires you to be skilled in both horsemanship and teaching.
To become a Registered therapeutic riding instructor, you must:
- Be at least 18 years old
- Be a PATH International individual member
- Submit adult and child CPR and first aid certifications
- Complete online standards course and exam
- Complete online self-assessment exam
- Complete a minimum of 25 hours of teaching therapeutic riding to a group (two or more riders)
- Attend a PATH International on-site instructor workshop
- Attend a PATH International on-site Registered instructor certification
To become an Advanced instructor, you must:
- Be at least 21 years old
- Be a current PATH International individual member or Registered instructor member
- Complete an online exam
- Complete adult and child CPR and first aid certifications
- Complete a PATH-approved training course, on-site PATH workshop or an Advanced instructor prep workshop
- Complete at least 120 hours instructing riders with disabilities at a current PATH International member center
To become a Master instructor, you must:
- Be at least 25 years old
- Be a current PATH instructor member and certified as an Advanced level instructor
- Be a member of an equestrian organization outside of PATH
- Have at least four years of involvement with a PATH International center
- Have at least 400 hours of experience teaching equine-assisted activities
- Document at least two years of service with PATH
You will need to submit a portfolio documenting your work and references, as well as pass a written exam. You’ll also have to meet with a panel for an oral exam and in-person evaluation.
Maintaining your certification status
After you’ve achieved your certification, you need to complete annual compliance. You have to submit an online form along with annual dues. Depending on your status, the cost can range from $60 to $175. As part of the compliance, you must also complete a minimum of 20 continuing education hours, including a minimum of six hours of disability education.
Therapeutic riding instructor certification options
If you’re thinking of pursuing equine-assisted therapy as a career, another option is to become a hippotherapy clinical specialist certified by the American Hippotherapy Certification Board.
Hippotherapy combines equine therapy with occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech-language pathology to achieve functional goals.
To become a certified hippotherapy clinical specialist, you must be currently licensed or certified to practice as a physical therapist, occupational therapist or a speech or language therapist in the U.S. You must complete at least three years of full-time work in any of those professions.
You must complete at least 100 hours of one-on-one direct treatment in clinical practice using hippotherapy within three years of the application deadline.
You also must be comfortable working with horses, and be able to demonstrate your riding ability.
Next, you have to complete a certification examination and pay the required fees. For members of the American Hippotherapy Association, the fee is $355. For non-members, it’s $455.
How to pay for certification
If you want to become a PATH-certified therapeutic riding instructor, your costs can range from $885 for a Registered membership to thousands of dollars if you want to complete an approved training course.
If you don’t have that kind of money tucked away in savings, you have a few different financing options:
- Ask friends or family for help: Your friends and family may be willing to help you achieve your dream. They may be able to gift you some or all of the necessary funds, or may be willing to give you a low-interest loan for the amount needed.
- Pick up a side hustle: You can raise money for your certification by picking up a side hustle. You could work at a barn as a groom or stall cleaner, allowing you to earn money while building your horsemanship skills. Or, you could deliver groceries or run errands in your spare time for extra cash.
- Take out a personal loan: If you need to borrow $1,000 or more, you could apply for a personal loan. With good credit, you can qualify for a low-interest loan and spread your payments out over months or even years.
- Use a low-interest credit card: If you have good credit, you may be able to qualify for a credit card that has an introductory 0% APR offer on new purchases. That perk could give you a year or more to pay for your certification without worrying about interest charges. If you don’t think you could pay off the full balance before your introductory offer ends, it’s best to consider another option.
The bottom line
Becoming a certified therapeutic riding instructor can be an exciting and immensely rewarding career. However, the certification process is rigorous, and can be expensive.
Before pursuing your certification, it’s a good idea to spend some time as a volunteer so you can learn about equine-assisted therapy firsthand.
“If someone is interested in becoming a therapeutic riding instructor, I’d recommend that they find a center near them and volunteer to get started and get your feet wet,” Marks said.
Not only will you gain valuable experience, but you’ll also be able to find out whether this is the right career option for you before you spend your hard-earned money on the certification process.
Visit the PATH International website to find a member center near you.