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Recently, we had our Equestrian Director go to another certification program. She came back with some confusing information. She says that the principal [of that organization], told her that she needed to be a "Certified Handicapped Instructor" to lead one-person trail rides for anyone with disabilities. She also said the horses need to be "Specially Trained" in order to be used for folks with disabilities.

We are making strides to become more accessible because that is becoming a growing market for us. Easter Seals and a group of Developmentally Disabled Adults both lease our facility presently and with new facilities having been built within the last year, the interest in our facility is growing. If what [this person] said is true, it would mean that we would have to restructure our Equine Program.
Our question is: in regards to walking with riders with people with disabilities, is what this person said a Law, a Standard for [their association] or [a standard for] CHA, or is it simply a good idea in case of an accident and litigation?

Thank you for your help,
Program Director at Camp

Dear Program Director at Camp,

In answer to your last question, the latter statement is accurate. It "is simply a good idea in case of an accident and litigation." There is no legal mandate that says that your instructors must be certified for dealing with riders with disabilities, although your insurance company might. However, it is a really good idea and providing horseback riding to persons with disabilities does carry a higher level of risk than does riding for persons who are generally able-bodied. Also, you should check with your insurance carrier to make sure that you are adequately covered. CHA standards require that instructors are qualified, experienced and meet minimum age requirements; certification would be an indication of that but other documentation may be acceptable.

Many large riding facilities are mainstreaming disabled riders into their programs and this is a welcome change. However, the risks are greatly increased and the staff and horses must be well qualified. Horses used for riders with disabilities must be extra quiet, very desensitized and must be taken through a process to desensitize them to things such as wheel chairs and crutches, people squealing, lurching, going off balance, spastic movements, etc.

Certain physical disabilities have precautions and contraindications for riding and so it is important to proceed with extreme caution to prevent further physical damage to the rider's body because of impairment caused by the disability. Some disabilities require a side-walker and leader, some require two side walkers and a leader. Mounting procedures can be very complicated with various disabilities. Emergency dismount policies and procedures for riders with disabilities must be formulated and practiced. For certain disabilities or conditions, riding is contra-indicated altogether. For others, the riders can attain a high level of horsemanship skills.

As you can imagine, having a certified instructor would theoretically mean that the person was trained to handle riders with disabilities in general, keeping in mind that all instructors cannot know everything about all disabilities. They do need to know where to go for appropriate information to keep the rider safe and prevent further injury.

Certainly having certified instructors for riders with disabilities would be a good idea, but it is not mandated by any law. Massachusetts is the only state that regulates riding instructors, and as far as I know, they do not distinguish between riding instructors of riders who are able-bodied and riders with disabilities.