Equestrian Coaches in Canada to be Licensed and Certified

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What does it mean and how will it change the landscape of Canada’s horse industry?

By Margaret Evans

At the Equestrian Canada Convention November 2, 2019, the Coach Licensing Program, which was unanimously approved by the Board, was unveiled. The plan is for all coaches to be licensed and certified by 2025.

According to Equestrian Canada (EC), in 2019 over 1,500 coaches maintained their active certification status by paying the Coach Levy. National Coach Certification Program (NCCP) records show that since inception of the certification programs, there have been 3,205 coaches certified in English disciplines and 2,201 certified in Western disciplines. In addition, 20 coaches have completed driving certifications, and 265 coaches completed programs without a specific discipline designation. 

But the numbers do not necessarily give an accurate count of all active coaches. EC estimates that there could be some 5,000 coaches who will be seeking certification. That analysis comes from event registrations where individuals have identified as coaches against the certification database. 

“It is important to note that not all coaches have kept their certifications current and may not necessarily be active today,” EC says in a statement. “Outside of the Coach Levy, EC does not currently have an effective way of confirming the number of active coaches, as current national and provincial registration systems (outside of Quebec) do not require coaches to specifically register with their equestrian federations. The Coach License will enable accurate identification of coaches, allowing for increased communication, promotion, and support of coaches.”

But the need for coaches to be certified and licensed has grown over recent years. Perceptions and understandings have changed. 

“Society is changing; mindsets and expectations have shifted considerably over the past decade,” says EC President Meg Krueger. “Current and future horse enthusiasts come to equestrian with the expectation that the sport will provide a unique, respectful, safe, and inclusive experience. If we fail to meet this expectation, we will fail to attract and retain equestrians. It is our duty as equestrian stewards to share our passion so that future generations can continue to benefit from the unique experience our sport offers. In order to do so, we must stand united in offering safe, respectful, and inclusive equestrian environments. This means implementing standards for coaching.”

Several factors accelerated the licensing process including:

  • The implementation of mandatory coach certification that was strongly requested by the provincial and territorial sport organizations (PTSOs) and fully supported by EC for inclusion in the 2018-2020 EC/PTSO Memorandum of Agreement. However, requiring all coaches to proceed to certification immediately is not feasible within the 2020 timeline, and the Coach License is the first step in a phased-in approach to mandatory coach certification; 
  • The introduction of a series of Safe Sport requirements by Sport Canada and actions emerging from the Red Deer Declaration - For the Prevention of Harassment, Abuse and Discrimination in Sport, signed in February 2019;
  • In Ontario, in accordance with Rowan’s Law, sport organizations are legally required to ensure access to concussion resources, establish removal-from-sport and return-to-sport protocols, and set out rules of behaviour to support concussion prevention.

Rowan’s Law is in memory of Rowan Stringer, a high school rugby player in Ottawa, Ontario, who passed away in 2013 at age 17 from Second Impact Syndrome due to multiple concussions suffered within a short period of time. Following her death, a coroner’s inquest resulted in 49 recommendations to be implemented to prevent another tragedy from happening in the future. Rowan’s Law passed unanimously in the Ontario Legislature on June 7, 2016.

Many other sports organizations have mandated licensing and certification programs. They ensure that minimum standards are met, which not only create a standard of care about the safe conduct of activities, but mitigate the risk for participants and the industry as a whole in the absence of a standardized coaching program. The belief is that coaches and trainers will have greater confidence when communicating with parents and athletes, as they will have the knowledge and experience to bring to the relationship.

“A benefit is to ensure that all of those coaches participating in competitions have had a minimum of training in safety, thus avoiding things like unsafe jumps in the warm-up ring,” says Dr. Susan Thompson, owner of Crescent Stables, Delta, BC, and EC competition coach specialist. “It also does give the licensing body the power to remove a license for unethical behaviour. Regardless of anyone’s feelings on the Safe Sport process, I am sure everyone wants to ensure athletes are not assaulted or the victims of fraud.”

Thompson says that she has had riders who have expressed frustration that they did not get the needed support from coaches unfamiliar with the rules of competition, causing riders some difficulties in a show environment. 

“Parents are more likely to ask about certification than riders, and I think that will be true of licensing as well for younger riders,” she says. “As licensing becomes the norm, any rider wishing to compete will be asking about the license status of their coach.”

Over the past few years the number of participants in the equestrian industry has been in steady decline, while there has been an increase in the average age of those remaining. Many people agree that there is a serious need for a grassroots renewal to encourage new people to enter the riding community.

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There is a serious need for a grassroots renewal to encourage new people to enter the riding community. Photo: iStock/Wavebreakmedia

“One of the key barriers to entry to our sector is that parents as well as prospective adult riders, drivers, and vaulters often feel at a loss about how to begin, how to sift good coaches and trainers from bad,” said Akaash Maharaj, former CEO of (then) Equine Canada and currently CEO of The Mosaic Institute, Toronto. “The skills, knowledge, and personality traits necessary to be an effective equestrian coach or trainer are rarely obvious to people who have not yet had their first experiences with horses. It would certainly be desirable for all equestrian coaches and trainers to be licensed and certified. Certification can act as a credible third-party seal of approval that can reassure those parents and prospective new horse people that they are placing themselves in safe and competent hands. Moreover, any reasonable system of licensing and certification will always include requirements for ongoing education and professional development by the coaches and trainers themselves, to ensure that the quality of both individual professionals and the profession itself will rise over time.”

He says that, from a broader perspective, effective certification and licensing could elevate the public standing of equestrian coaching and training, and by extension, the standing of the broader equine sector. The public and various levels of government tend to regard certain kinds of workers as “professionals” only if those workers have had to meet standards of education or training, demonstrate certain skills, be bound by certain ethical standards, and be accountable to the public through defined oversight bodies. Maharaj believes that the equine sector is a serious part of Canada’s society and economy, and workers deserve to be recognized as professionals.

equestrian canada coach licensing program, how to find a certified riding coached, starting to ride a horse in canada, how to choose a hore trainer canada

Certification and licensing will elevate the public standing of coaches and trainers, and the equine sector in general. Among the benefits will be the acknowledgement of our workers as professionals, and recognition of our industry’s contribution to Canada’s economy and society. Photo: Clix Photography

“With licensing there is a further level of assurance for parents and athletes,” says Wendy Sewell, manager of coaching and education with Horse Council BC. “If {an} EC Certified coach is licensed, it shows that they have been trained, screened, and met EC standards for coaching. All sport needs to clearly show more checks and balances for coaching professionals in order to protect vulnerable athletes. Our funding partners are asking for us to adopt and implement Respect in Sport principles for coaches working with athletes and children. Licensing also offers a level of protection for coaches. The need is not new, but EC is being proactive in creating the safer environment because it is time to do so.”

The Respect Group was incorporated in 2004 by co-founders Sheldon Kennedy and Wayne McNeil, dedicated to the prevention of bullying, abuse, harassment, and discrimination in sports, schools, and the workplace. The Respect in Sport Activity Leader/Coach Program educates youth leaders, coaches, officials, and participants (14 years and up) to recognize and respond to negative issues. Their website indicates that the most serious issues facing community sport include harassment (38 percent), intolerance/racism (29 percent), lack of fair play (21 percent) and other issues (12 percent). They recognize that coaches are 95 percent responsible for improving sportsmanship, making coaches important leaders in providing a safe and rewarding environment for youth.

“I think this [licensing and certification] is a step in the right direction as a whole,” says EC coach April Dawn Ray with Canadian Horse Journal. “Ensuring the safety of new and current riders by certifying and supporting the coaches who are developing them is a great start to improving and hopefully sustaining the industry. Given the nature of our sport, and the risks involved with riding, I have always been shocked at the number of individuals actively coaching who are not certified, especially when it comes to coaching minors. Having coaches licensed and certified should help to ensure that all riders have quality coaching, and safe, positive experiences.”

However, there can be some confusion between a certified coach and a licensed coach.

“EC certified coaches have been trained, screened, and evaluated by EC’s professional evaluators and meet specific standards for the context they are certified in,” says Sewell. “Licensed coaches will be insured and screened by EC, but have not been evaluated and proven they meet the EC standards.”

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Equestrian Canada represents only about 15 percent of the horse industry; 85 percent of the industry is not governed by or even influenced by EC. Photo: iStock/Fotokostic

Maureen Walters of Grand Forks is a Master Coaching Evaluator for British Columbia and a Competition Coach Specialist in the three disciplines of dressage, hunter/jumper, and eventing. She sees great value in licensing and certification with respect to accountability.

“If it makes coaches/trainers follow some rules and be accountable, I am all for it,” says Walters.  

EC says that a Coach License represents an individual’s eligibility to practice as a coach in the eyes of EC and its member provincial and territorial sport organizations (PTSOs).  The EC Coach License confirms that a coach has agreed to abide by EC’s Code of Conduct and other applicable policies, has been screened in accordance with EC’s Screening Policy, and has met minimum training and certification requirements.

EC offers certification as part of the National Coach Certification Program (NCCP), and certifications offered by other organizations are recognized for coach licensing, providing greater flexibility to coaches to determine where and how they learn and demonstrate their competency. Certification requirements and recognitions will evolve with the program.

Mike King, partner responsible for equine industry risk management and related programming at CapriCMW, Aurora, Ontario, is firmly supportive of all coaches being licensed. CapriCMW is the insurance provider for the coach license program across the country.

“The license is a credential that every coach, instructor, trainer of riders should have regardless of discipline and regardless of whether or not they ever intend to attend an EC sanctioned event with an athlete,” says King. “Every employer of coaches at every barn in Canada should be demanding that their staff or hired contractors get licensed. If they don’t, they will be exposing themselves to risk. Because the standard exists, they will be judged accordingly, and this is especially true in a court should a liability claim come forward.”

King explains that being licensed may lead some coaches to certify with NCCP at some point in the future and it is hoped that, once a coach has committed to a license, they will consider continuing with their professional education through the NCCP process. The coaching organization is revamping its programs this year to make them more achievable, accessible, and appealing to a broader audience.

“As a coach, access to education material through the EC e-learning platform will be interesting to see and something that could prove quite useful,” says Ray. “As the sport is constantly evolving, so should we be as coaches. The cost associated with getting certified is high, but it does look like EC is making an effort to offset that with discounts and insurance options, etc. When I am meeting with new clients or speaking to potential clients, I often lead with the fact that I am certified. It is something that sets you apart as a coach and I think lends a certain amount of credibility and respect.”

For those who might resist certification, Ray says that insurance costs do go down dramatically once a coach is certified. 

“Having renewed my coaching certification in the last few years, I did find it really helpful for me to feel like I was educated and prepared to do my job as a coach,” she says. “Especially the first aid training and concussion training, both mandatory to be a certified coach. I wouldn’t really want to be coaching without that as accidents do happen and I, for one, want to know I have taken the steps to be best prepared to handle those situations should they arise.”

Across the country, many riders and coaches have not fully processed what it all means and where the deadlines are coming from. 

“Riders are not yet truly aware of what it all means and ‘what’s-in-it-for-them,’” says Linda Hazelwood, business manager, Manitoba Horse Council (MHC). “Right now, because the program has not been firmed up for coaches to understand, it cannot be down-communicated to riders. One of the most active EC coaches in terms of Rider Levels in this province comments that her clients have sought out her and her facility because she insists on certification of her instructors.”

Hazelwood says that they have a low-key peer-to-peer communication effort to encourage non-certified coaches to start understanding what licensing will mean to them in terms of competition.

“We know there are many non-certified coaches at competitions and in facilities, and we have to encourage them to join in without being heavy-handed,” she says. “Certified coaches are worried that it will cost them more. They don’t want to move from the comfort of the insurer that they have had for years, etc.”

Hazelwood says that costs are a huge factor and affordability will weigh on potential coaches going forward.

“MHC does not speak directly to parents. Their communication would be to their children’s coaches. As with the riders, certification was part of their choice for instructors, mostly because of the consistency of programming through EC. The licensing should not affect parents unless their chosen coach cannot afford to go on teaching. Many current part-time coaches may not be able to continue because they can’t afford the level of program they’ll be required to purchase, especially if they want to train people in the Rider Level program, never mind Rookie Riders. Coaches in this province are predominantly part-time because they cannot make a living at full-time coaching.”

However, Hazelwood says that non-current coaches will need to get started on their program because it is going to become mandatory. From a marketing standpoint, the encouragement would be to become licensed to gain a recognized level of competency and achievement among peers and clients.

“I think it is a very ambitious goal but at the same time a very good goal,” says Wayne Burwash, president, Canadian Quarter Horse Association (CQHA). “This goal should be attainable for coaches that are involved in EC approved competitions, but the program will be slow to be accepted and implemented outside this circle. When EC talks about having all coaches being licensed and certified, we must remember that EC represents only approximately 15 percent of the horse industry and that 85 percent of the industry is not governed by or even influenced by EC.”

Burwash believes that there is an increasing number of coaches and trainers, both English and Western, who are becoming more aware of the need to be certified, so there is a gauge for new riders entering the industry to choose a reputable professional.

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An increasing number of coaches and trainers, both English and Western, are aware that new riders entering the industry need a standard to help them choose a reputable professional. Photo: Clix Photography

“However, through my involvement in the horse industry, I would agree with the HCBC findings that the Western coaches/trainers/riding instructors have been much slower to buy into a certified coaching program,” he says. “I am not sure if I know why this is. Maybe because their mentorship into becoming a professional horseperson is not formally structured and they tend to be a more independent type of individual, whereas many English riders start out in Pony Club and are raised on a more formal bureaucratic system.”

The move toward being licensed and being certified has understandably raised many questions. Some coaches identify themselves as trainers. While some trainers may only be training the horse, many are focused on both the horse and rider and, in King’s opinion, they should be licensed. 

“I am receiving many questions from both certified and uncertified coaches,” says Sewell. “Most are wondering about the licensing system, how it affects them, what license they should purchase, and why. Many uncertified coaches are requesting information on how they can become certified. Coaches certified by other organizations are asking if they can be licensed.”

EC says that the feedback they have received from coaches and athletes has been mixed with both positive and negative reactions to the coach license. However, many individuals feel coach licensing is long overdue, and most recognize that it is necessary to structure and regulate the profession of coaching for the protection and well-being of both participants and coaches. How this translates for upper level Western coaches might be a challenge.

“In my circle of middle to upper level Quarter Horse trainers, there is a general thought that there is no need for them to be certified, because their reputation and achievements are much more important to them to attract new students and new training horses than any certificate,” says Burwash. “I think we must be careful not to equate licensing and certification, they can be quite different things. Within the Quarter Horse industry, there is a general consensus that some kind of certification is a very positive thing. The American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) has what is called the AQHA Professional Horseman group that has similar goals to the EC coaches’ program. I don’t see any issues specific to ‘Western’ coaches that are not common to ‘English’ coaches. I must point out that there is a huge number of Quarter Horse participants who ride English, so we must not categorize the entire Quarter Horse industry as ‘Western.’ I think it is fair for me to say that the vast majority of CQHA members are on board with the concept of certification, but I would not anticipate any widespread participation in the EC program, certainly not by 2025. Definitely, I cannot see the AQHA endorsing the program even though they would look at it very favourably.” 

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Some mid- to upper-level Quarter Horse trainers believe they do not need to be certified because their reputation and achievements will attract new students and horse training clients to them. Photo: Clix Photography

King has reached out to talk to many coaches across the country.

“Since the introduction of this in November 2019, I have spoken directly to coaches (hundreds of them) in every province,” he says. “My experience has been that, once the coach gets a sense of the why and wherefore, they are 100 percent on board. Initially, I think many coaches saw this as a money grab by EC or just another issue that only affected the ‘English’ world but, once the details are made clear, I have had nothing but support and enthusiasm. The reality is that the coaches I have interacted with all know that this is long overdue. Virtually every other sport in the country did this work years ago – for [the equestrian industry], its time.”

King stresses that the “standard” is now in the marketplace and there really is no excuse not to be licensed. 

“The courts and responsible insurance risk managers will judge those who take their profession seriously more favourably than those who do not have this basic credential in hand,” he says. “In our case, as an insurance provider of thousands of equine professionals, credits have already been built into our premium calculations for insurance associated with licensed coaches. There are definitely financial incentives for coaches to get on board.”

EC says that the development of the coach license has been primarily their initiative in cooperation with its member PTSOs. The license has been designed with the equestrian industry as a whole in mind, not just those who are involved in competitive sport. However, their ability to legislate is limited to sanctioned events, activities, and programs, with the hope that other organizations will see the value of the license and embrace it as a means to address the challenges being faced.

To provide coaches with encouragement and enough time to become licensed and certified by 2025, EC has put in place a phased-in approach. This year, the organization will require coaches to be licensed at select EC sanctioned competitions, with the goal of requiring all coaches to be licensed for all EC sanctioned competitions by 2021.

The benefits of the Coach Licensing Program include insurance coverage provided by CapriCMW, access to independent third-party complaint management, preferred rates for certified coaches and coaches enrolled in the certification process, access to educational material through the EC e-learning platform, and discounts on EC sport license purchases for those who both coach and compete.

But how well the licensing and certification program goes will depend on the quality and efficiency of the system being implemented. A poorly organized system is worse than no system at all. 

“I know EC is implementing its licensing and certification program with the support of Canada's National Coaching Certification Program, and that it is part of the International Group for Equestrian Qualifications, which is all very much to the good,” says Maharaj. “Ultimately, though, EC should bear in mind that its efforts will succeed or fail based only on the judgement of Canadian horse people. Over time, if students feel that they are receiving better coaching and training from EC-licensed professionals than from unlicensed providers, and if EC-licensed coaches and trainers feel that the benefits of the EC system are higher than the costs, then I think EC’s ambitions will be realized. However, if either group does not see the value in the program, it will waste away into irrelevance.

“In addition, there is always a critical question around how the system will be governed. In developed democracies, professions are, by their nature, self-governing. Lawyers have their law societies, physicians have their medical associations, and accountants have their institutes. This model reflects the fact that professional licensing, certification, and discipline must be carried out by the professionals themselves, as a democratically self-regulating community of peers, in accordance with publicly-understood standards and ethics. EC ended its system of democratic grassroots mass membership several years ago, and it is now instead an organization with only 27 individuals as its legal members. This raises the grave risk that licensing, certification, and discipline will be done to coaches and instructors, instead of done by coaches and instructors. EC should be under no illusion that horse people are fiercely independent, and horse professionals will not support a system that either belittles them or ties them to an external bureaucratic yoke, especially if that yoke is controlled by non-horse people.”

Maharaj believes that this kind of sector-wide change will require sustained leadership, across the federation. In his estimate, EC’s last five CEOs have remained in office for an average of only 2.5 years each, and none more than four years.  

“EC’s Board must put its house in order and break this pattern if it hopes to see any five-year plan through to completion, let alone one that seeks to transform the professional norms and expectations of the sector.”

Overall, there is optimism for the program, with the focus on the value of certified coaches to young riders and those new to the industry with high expectations.

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Parents are much more likely to ask about the license status of those coaching young riders. Photo: Clix Photography

“As a member of the CED and someone who has been working in the industry for nearly two decades, I believe that we need to work together to modernize the coaching profession,” says Heather Myrer, Executive Director of the Nova Scotia Equestrian Federation, and a member of the joint EC-PTSO Canadian Equestrian Development (CED) Committee. “We know the important role that coaches play in shaping the mindset of young equestrians, and I am very proud that we are making this a priority through the Coach Licensing Program.”

Many factors in play should work in EC’s favour.

“I think it will have a very positive affect on all aspects of the horse industry,” says Burwash. “The biggest benefit I see is people new to the horse industry will be able to choose a more qualified instructor/trainer/coach, and therefore are more apt to receive a positive start in the horse industry. This should help keep people in the horse industry rather than get turned off by a fly-by-night.”

He sees competitive insurance coverage, parental approval, riders’ reassurance that they are working with a qualified trainer, and professionalism as major benefits. The other big plus for the horse industry is that people seeking out the services of better qualified trainer/coaches are much more likely to have positive experiences and stay involved with horses, hopefully reversing the trend of the horse industry shrinking.

More details on the Coach Licensing Program will be announced in the coming months. We are committed to keeping you up to date and informed at www.HORSEJournals.com/EC-Coach-Licensing-Program. Please write to us with your comments and concerns, to editor@horsejournals.com

Main Photo: Clix Photography 


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