Did you know that in Germany, and other European countries, an instructor of dressage must be licensed? Here, in the United States, there is no such requirement. So, how do you know, when looking for an instructor, that the person actually knows the classical techniques for which you are looking? Well, obviously, you can look at the person’s show record and if they have many blue ribbons and high scores in their resume, it should be a safe bet that they know what they are doing. However we all know that, sometimes, those “show ring” achievements may have been obtained by inhumane treatments.
Have you ever taken a college course from a superior expert in his field, to find out that the instructor can’t communicate worth a darn? It’s not uncommon that knowledgeable people are not able to teach. This happens in the horse world too. There are some superior riders that have such enviable feel for the horse but they can’t explain what they are doing.
This is why there are some relatively new “instructor certification” programs available to us in the United States. These programs test the knowledge as well as the ability of the candidate to communicate and actually teach. So, when you take a dressage lesson with a certified dressage instructor, there is some assurance that the instructor will not only know the skills and the rules for dressage, but will also be able to communicate to you, and be a good teacher.
For 45 years, the Certified Horsemanship Association has been providing a certification program. Although this organization doesn’t have a “dressage” certification, its “English” program includes the concepts of correct riding and safety. The website for CHA is
In 1984, the American Riding Instructors Association was formed, and it included, among many disciplines a dressage certification through “Third Level Dressage”. The website for ARIA is
In 1990, The United States Dressage Federation started its certification program which is the most “dressage focused” certification program in the U.S. is the website for this program..
There are several instructors in NY that are certified through the USDF program..
Taking lessons from these instructors, you can be assured that they are up to date on the classical dressage training methods.
As described at the beginning of this article, “blue ribbons” are a very good indication of an instructor’s knowledge. But, for me, with having a full time job in the environmental field, and a full time horse boarding and lesson business, there was not a lot of time for me to go on the horse show circuit to earn more of those blue ribbons, although I did managed to retrain a western palomino quarter horse mare to hunt seat and show her to a national amateur championship on the Palomino Circuit, and we even qualified for the Palomino Worlds. I do have a bunch of blue ribbons, and a couple of championship awards in my tack room. But all of those were from nearly 20 years ago! I needed something more current to justify my credentials.
From my “other life” of being an engineering graduate from Cornell University, I knew that I had to obtain my “Professional Engineering” License in order to practice engineering in the State of New York. So, the “certification program” in the horse world appealed to me. In the mid-90’s when I first looked into certification, I was primarily teaching hunt seat and recreational riders, so either the ARIA or the CHA programs would work for me, but I ended up choosing the ARIA route. ARIA has a mailing list of almost 3,000 instructors, with over 800 of them being certified in specialties such as dressage, hunt seat, western, sidesaddle, recreational riding, Trail Riding, , , , , , , , , , , , , and .
Much of the candidate’s ARIA certification work is done “at home” with video tape and essay submissions that demonstrate knowledge and communication skills. I didn’t have to go away for a week at a time to a certification program, something that would be difficult for me to do. ARIA’s certification requires just one day of testing at a test center, at which candidates turn in their video tapes, their essays, do oral presentations, and then take several written exams on general horse knowledge and specifically on the discipline for which certification is desired. There are three main levels of ARIA certification offered, Level I, Level II and Level III in each of the specialties. ARIA also awards “Instructor Educator” and “Master Instructor” certifications. You may have heard of some of ARIA’s Master Instructors: George Morris, Susan Harris, Judy Richter, Michael Page, Lendon Gray, and Robert Dover.
To make a long story short, I obtained Level III certification for Hunt Seat and Recreational Riding in 1999, and then recertified in 2005 and again in 2011.
ARIA requires recertification every five years, with extensions granted if ARIA conferences are attended. Because I have earned the Level III certification in Hunt Seat and Recreational Riding three times, I am now permanently certified in these two disciplines. I am also a lifetime member of the ARIA and I am looking forward to contributing more to this organization.
I’ve always been dabbling in the sport of Eventing, ever since I was a pony clubber back in the early 70’s. So, I’ve always “done” dressage, and as I have gotten older, and wiser, I have found myself more and more in the dressage world, and liking it. So, in 2006, I returned to the ARIA program to get my first certification in dressage, shooting for Level II. The main reason that I didn’t aim for Level III at that time, is that I didn’t have any USEF Dressage Level 3 students, which would be required for the ARIA lesson video submission. In 2006, while I was testing for dressage, I also obtained my Level III certification in Western Horsemanship, and Level I in Carriage Driving and Eventing.
In 2012, it was time for me to retest for Dressage and Western, and I did so in March at the test center in Cazenovia. I am happy to report that I obtained 100% on each of the written exams in dressage, and received my Level III certification from the ARIA to instruct through Level III dressage. The ARIA informed me that I am the first to receive the “blue ribbon of excellence” award on my Level III instructor’s certificate for dressage. I also renewed my Western Level III certification. This is a good match of certifications, since I’m interested in the new USEF discipline of “Western Dressage”.
I can tell you, with full experience, that the ARIA dressage certification program is a very thorough test of knowledge of the classical theories of the dressage. Examination questions require that the candidate knows the concepts of the “Training Scale”, inside and out, and to apply the fundamentals of such to problem solving situations. There are many questions on the USEF dressage rules.
I encourage other dressage (and other disciplines) instructors to consider the ARIA certification program. It is very thorough, and perhaps a bit more economical to achieve than some of the other programs, in that a candidate may not have to travel far to do the testing. For example, there are no “week-long” clinics required for certification and there seems to be many more scheduled testing events with the ARIA than other certification programs. The organization has wonderful national conferences, usually in Naples, Florida, during the winter, and there is much networking done at these conferences, as well as ongoing support via the internet.
Instructor awards are given at the conferences (I have twice received recognition of being one of the top 50 ARIA instructors in the organization). I know for a fact that the certification has helped my lesson business. Prospective clients who are investigating instructors are impressed with the ARIA certification certificates hanging on my barn wall.
Visit the ARIA website listed above for more information about the certifications offered by the American Riding Instructors Association. Feel free also to contact me if you have questions on the ARIA organization.
Why am I certified with the
American Riding Instructors Association?