Senior instructor at Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center in Woodinville teaches people with disabilities how to ride horses.

Share story

What do you do? I am a Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) International advanced instructor at Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center [in Woodinville], and I work here as the senior instructor. This means I teach people with disabilities how to ride horses in lessons ranging from one rider to five riders at a time.

Instructors here also school the horses, which is about a 30-minute ride working on advancing the horse’s skills: walk only work, advanced walk, trot and canter dressage work.

Instructors also handle the horses for our hippotherapy program, where therapists (physical, occupational or speech pathologists) use the horse as a treatment tool. The handler will ground drive the horse from behind using long lines [during hippotherapy].

Instructors are also in charge of many other aspects of the program side of the organization: volunteer training, scheduling, summer camps, horse shows, horse intake and trial-horse training, among other things.

How did you get started? I became interested in this business back in high school. I was on our cross country running, skiing and track teams, which are very inclusive sports, and found myself connecting more with my teammates with disabilities, than those without.

I’ve always loved all animals and had been riding, teaching and managing a local stable for years. When it came time to look into colleges I discovered I could combine both these passions in the therapeutic riding industry.

I went to St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, NC, and got two degrees in the field (equine business management and therapeutic horsemanship). I was able to graduate as an NARHA registered instructor and found work right out of college at the Shea Center in California.

What’s a typical day like? Depending on the shift I have, I either arrive at the barn very early, or I get to show up in the afternoon and then leave very late. Little Bit is open from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. with lessons going on all throughout the day, except from 1:30-2:30, when the horses get their lunch.

I either have lessons to teach, horses to ride or hippotherapy sessions to long line for throughout the day. I am also in charge of the rider list, which is our program’s daily schedule, and horse usage, so there is always a lot of office work for me to take care of in between my scheduled duties. And as always, there are weekly meetings and office emails to respond to.

What’s the best part of the job? Hands down the best part of my job is teaching! I of course love horses — that is why I originally got into this field — but once I started teaching other people how to ride I realized what my true passion was: people. I get to meet all sorts of people in this industry and I’ve developed quite a lot of close relationships because of it. I even was a caretaker for one of my favorite riders for a few years because I wanted to spend more than just one day a week — and only an hour at that — with her and her family.

What surprises people about your job?
I guess the fact that it exists at all! I always have to explain my job to people once I tell them my title because they are always open-mouthed stunned about it! I do feel very privileged that I have a full-time job teaching people with disabilities how to ride horses — it’s a dream come true for me.