Read as Laura Moya talks about her career as a Therapeutic Riding Instructor.  Find her at www.highhopestr.org and on the Twitter feed in the sidebar of this interview.

What do you do for a living?

I am a Therapeutic Riding Instructor.

How would you describe what you do?

As a Therapeutic Riding Instructor, I teach horseback riding to children and adults with physical, cognitive and emotional disabilities.  The horse is utilized as a method of accomplishing goals that are set through collaboration with the participant, participant family, school system, and therapists.

What does your work entail?

Therapeutic riding instruction necessitates strong horsemanship skills and people skills as well.  In addition to working with the horses and participant populations, I also have administrative responsibilities facilitating different programs offered by the organization.

What’s a typical work week like?

In a typical work week I instruct, both group and private lessons, for about 6-8 hours.  In additional to instructional responsibilities, I also have one morning and evening where I am what is called a “back-up” instructor, helping to facilitate activities in the barn and arena in order to assist the instructor teaching in the arena.  These responsibilities involve getting paddock retrieval and turnout, grooming and tacking, and exercise horses as assigned.

When not in the arena, I am diligently working on administrative duties.  In addition to instructional tasks, I also supervise all training and education initiatives, interns, instructors in training, summer camp programs, field trips and birthday parties, and all curriculum development and volunteer training associated with our unmounted Equine Learning Program.  The typical work week involves a lot of multi-tasking and time management to be both effective in the arena and the office as well.

How did you get started?

In my junior year of High School I completed an Independent Study to learn more about Animal Assisted Therapies and began volunteering at a Therapeutic Riding center as part of my coursework.  I quickly fell in love with therapeutic riding and knew that it needed to be a part of my life.  So when I started looking seriously at colleges, I made sure that there was a center nearby where I could volunteer.

My love for the field and the magic that occurs so naturally between a horse and someone with a special need only magnified over the years.   After college I became certified through PATH International and have been working as an instructor ever since.

What do you like about what you do?

Aside from fulfilling my childhood dream of working with horses, I really enjoy the interaction with people.  Not only do I know that I am able to help improve our participants lives but we also have a great impact on the volunteers that help make what we do possible.  Part of the magic of therapeutic riding is that it is very much a community endeavor.  Centers need the assistance of the local community in order to flourish and improve programs.  It is inspiring to be part of such a powerful, community driven initiative.

What do you dislike?

Since most centers are non profit there is always a crunch for resources.  Whether it is looking for grant money to fund existing programs or looking for volunteer support to start a new initiative, there is always a drive to develop new relationships and expand offerings while balancing the workload of staff.

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

My position is full time salaried.

How much money do you make?

I make between $29,500 – $50,000 annually.

How much money do you make starting out?

My starting salary was $29,500

What education or skills are needed to do this?

Although there are more colleges and universities now that offer minors or focuses in Therapeutic Riding Instruction, this is not a pre-requisite for becoming a certified instructor.  Individuals who want to become certified must have a strong foundation in horsemanship skills and a working knowledge of individuals with disabilities.

There are three levels of instructor certification along with a myriad of specialty certification that can be completed (such as carriage driving, interactive vaulting and equine specialist).  Registered Instructor Certification is accomplished through either an Approved Training Course or a self study method culminating in a two and a half day workshop and certification.  Both methods involve online testing, instructor mentorship with a certified instructor as well as riding and teaching evaluation.

What is most challenging about what you do?

The most challenging aspect of being a therapeutic riding instructor is the need to be flexible to change.  When working with horses, who are independent thinking animals, and individuals with special needs, there is always a level of unpredictability.  Therefore it necessary for an instructor to constantly evaluate the risks and the benefits of activities for both the individudal and the horse as well.  Managing this risk coupled with balancing administrative responsibilities can create stress and possible burnout in instructors.

What is most rewarding?

It is extremely rewarding to work with the participants, volunteers and instructors in training.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

I would encourage anyone interested in therapeutic riding to look into achieving a graduate degree in some field of therapy (occupational, physical, mental health, etc.).  This will help to secure a higher pay salary and the opportunity to work as a part-time instructor at centers.  Many centers are small and may not have the need or the funds for full time instructors therefore an educational background that it is marketable in multiple fields is imperative.

How much time off do you get/take?

Vacation time is accrued throughout the year and increases the longer an employee is with the organization.  The range is roughly 12 days off for new employees and can increase up to 20 days per year.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

Many people think that a superficial knowledge of equines and horseback riding is sufficient in order to be a therapeutic riding instructor and this is not the case.  Also, lots of people think that therapeutic riding is only for children even though it is incredibly beneficial for adults with varying challenges.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

To return to graduate school to complete a degree that would allow me to work with participants at a higher level.

What else would you like people to know about what you do?

Therapeutic riding is wonderful but it is not for everyone.  If you are interested in becoming an instructor, volunteer at a center first to ensure that you like it.  If you decide to move forward, make sure that you have a strong instructor who can mentor you through the certification process and plan for your success.  Good mentorship is the key to becoming a strong instructor yourself!