Little League coaches do it. Pop Warner football games require it. And across the country, states are considering legislation requiring that all school sports coaches do it, too.
But can--and should--state legislatures rule the qualifications of coaches and instructors in private businesses? And of horse riding instructors and horse professionals in particular?
We might be about to find out.
"It" is certification in CPR, first aid and concussions, a high concern of parents, and some prospective riding clients.
On Tuesday, February 24, the state of Connecticut will host a public hearing on House Bill 6799, introduced last month to require that anyone giving instruction on the care or riding of horses for profit in Connecticut hold certifications in CPR, first aid and concussions.
That creaking sound you hear is the hinge on Pandora's Box, as the public learns that riding instructors aren't required to be certified in safety and/or first aid. But while the public may be surprised and even concerned, so may riding instructors and horse professionals, who have been singled out among all non-school sports professionals in Connecticut.
So far, no parallel proposed legislation can be found for figure skating, gymnastics, tennis, shooting, golf, or any other sport involving instruction.
The bill was introduced last month by Connecticut bi-partisan Committee on Children, even though it would govern instruction given to people of all ages. After going through committee, it is now ready for its initial hearing and, presumably, its initial publicity.
As background, Connecticut is one of only a few states that regulates horse riding establishments. The states that do have different criteria and some states that don't regulate them by name may regulate them under other business or agricultural categories. Massachusetts is the only state that licenses riding instructors directly.
Since Connecticut does not regulate instructors, this legislation would put a requirement on them, but in reading the proposed bill, the requirement would apply not just to instructors but to anyone giving a clinic or demonstration at a riding establishing. The bill does not state that live horses need to be used, only that someone is undertaking to offer "private, semi-private or group instruction on the care, maintenance or riding of an equine...to individuals for profit".
Presumably, this would apply to veterinary and farrier demonstrations and lectures, plus many other unmounted and off-season clinics that bring farms extra income and exposure, and force groups to find alternate off-farm locations for educational events to circumvent the state law, if an instructor or clinician is not CPR/first-aid/concussion certified.
The use of dummy or mechanical horses is not listed as an exemption for the legislation.
Fred Mastele, president of the Connecticut Horse Council, hopes to be in Hartford early to be sure he has a chance to speak or file a brief on the legislation. He admitted in an interview on Saturday that the legislation had come as a surprise to his organization and many others in the state.
Mastele said he'd like to have a chance to explore cost-effective programs for horse professionals in the state and determine what options might be available before making a decision whether to support the bill as it is written. He did say that he was fully in favor of safety education and awareness in the horse industry.
Bills often are amended as they proceed through the legislature, or they may be replaced by other legislation. Or, they may be abandoned.
In 2014, Connecticut legislators passed House Bill 5113, "to reduce the number of concussions in children". House Bill 5113 set a precedent for going beyond the schools with concussion-related education and monitoring. The sudden filing of a bill specific to horses comes as a surprise, but the concern for safety in general, and concussions in particular, in recreational or athletic activities should not.
How will the Connecticut bill be perceived beyond Connecticut?
In CPR education trends, twenty states are now requiring teaching CPR to high school students as a requirement for graduation.
Long-time equestrian Maureen Gallatin of Inspired by Horses was cautious about the proposed law, but not about the need for equestrian safety education. "Adding legislation won't likely add to the safety of riding students," she insisted. "This industry is so mom-and-pop (or horse-crazy-girl-turned-trainer) oriented--the people who most need the training are likely to fly under the radar, anyway. When dealing with that population (instructors/trainers/horse people), I find the carrot much more effective than the stick.
She continued: "It’s a great catalyst for the industry to highlight the importance of that training. Make it a movement, like helmet wearing. A company might sponsor training, or provide a certificate for $25 off from their catalog for instructors who complete the training. Magazine articles could include the question: 'Has the staff at the riding stable where you’re considering taking lessons been certified in first aid?' That way, you’re educating and empowering the consumer."
What about certified riding instructors: are they trained in CPR, first aid and concussions? There is no easy answer to that question. Many programs in the United States do not list any requirement.
Certified Horsemanship Association instructors have no requirement but may substitute first aid training for some of the 25 hours of continuing professional development hours required every three years to keep updated. "Our energy is better spent to teach instructors to teach safely," CHA Programs Director Polly Barger said. She, like others interviewed, was supportive of the idea of safety-trained instructors in principle.
Christy Landwehr, Certified Horsemanship Association CEO, clarified her organization's support for safety education. "We require all of our clinicians and all of our Instructors of Riders with Disabilities (IRD) participants to be CPR and (First) Aid certified and we strongly recommend all of our instructors across the board be as well."
CHA, along with some other organizations, does not specify whose certification they will accept. Others specify American Heart Association or Red Cross exclusively. Path Intl specifies that CPR and first aid are required but that online certifications are not acceptable.
The US Pony Club does not require certified first aid personnel. Instead, according to the organization's website, a "best practice" of the Club is "Have a CPR and First Aid certified individual at your meetings. Designate an adult to oversee safety concerns."
The US Dressage Federation requires first aid certification for all its instructors. The US Eventing Association website says that its instructors must "possess a current CPR/first aid card". First aid and CPR certificates for Centered Riding instructor candidates are "strongly recommended".
The British Horse Society does require that its CPR and first aid certifications be met and be up to date for instructors; an entire page of the organization's website lists one-day refresher seminars held around Great Britain where instructors can satisfy renewal requirements. If a certification runs out, re-testing is necessary. Equine Canada requires first aid certification for coaches at all levels.
Many riding instructors receive training in equine studies programs at colleges and universities; a quick search found only one that required first aid certification, although there may be others. William Woods University in Missouri requires all students who wish to major or minor in equestrian studies have current Red Cross or American Heart Association certification.
What about the real world application of these certifications? Meg Hilly, dressage instructor and head coach at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, didn't hesitate to endorse the idea of instructors being certified in first aid and was quick to credit the USDF for requiring it. "The CPR/Red Cross training is good to do so that you know what you should or shouldn't do," she said. "It doesn't mean you take on the role of a doctor, it gives you time to rehearse what you would do, which is very important."
"I do the Red Cross CPR/community health training every two years," she continued. "I think it is essential to have this training, and a system in place for giving and getting help as quickly as possible is paramount in our sport. Having been through a head injury with short term memory loss myself, I am very sensitive to this subject.
"I think the biggest thing you learn from taking the Red Cross courses is that time is of the essence in many riding accident situations."
Heather Reynolds Rostal of RER Ponies in Hatfield, Massachusetts was another instructor happy to tout her certifications for both riding instruction and safety. However, her certifications in CPR and first aid were her idea.
"My choice was simply my own, not a requirement of any of my certifications. I just feel it's something you should know because of the risks involved with riding. I would not want my child riding a horse with someone that did not have a basic understanding of CPR and first aid; therefore I make sure I am certified.
"I believe many of the parents of children that ride with me feel more confident because I have the 'extra qualifications'. To be honest, I would think that they assume it's a requirement and would be shocked to find out it's something I choose for the safety of my riders."
Heather is CHA certified for Level Four English and Level One Western; she has her Massachusetts Instructors License (required by the state) and holds her British Horse Society Stage 3.
A quick check of equestrian instructor jobs listed on INDEED found only two Girl Scout and one YMCA camp job that required CPR/first aid certifications. Additional Girl Scout, YMCA and other camps did not list any requirements, nor did any of the private farm jobs available.
Tuesday's hearing in Hartford will hopefully bring some of Bill 6799's shortcomings to light, especially its ambiguous wording. The bill also does not specify what the penalty might be for violating the law or who would enforce it.
What this bill is likely to do is bring to the public's attention that many riding instructors are not certified in their profession, that many certifications do not include mandatory first aid training, and that riding stables may or may not have emergency equipment or plans in place in the event of an accident.
Filing a bill outlining a sensible plan to phase in equestrian safety consciousness and emergency planning across the board to equestrian events, facilities and ownership would be a bill that all horse professionals and riders would support, no matter where we live or ride.
Top image created with an original silhouette by Scott Robinson.