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The importance of qualified professionals in the equine Industry

March 30, 2021

The Northern Ireland Equine Industry contributes approximately £212 million per year to the economy, with associated employment of up to 3,300 full-time jobs (Deloitte, 2019).

Some of the major costs come from using providers of goods and services, for example farriers, instructors, feed suppliers and veterinary services.  Parents, horse owners or equine yard proprietors should be insistent on using accredited professionals in their field of expertise.

Riding Instructors / Coaches

No official training is required to be a riding instructor or coach, however many coaches have high level competition experience in specific disciplines combined with an equine teaching qualification. This combination of formal training and experience improves their credentials and level of recognition in their chosen discipline. In Northern Ireland, there are two key accreditation organisations: the British Horse Society (BHS), and Horse Sport Ireland (HSI) certifications. 

Anyone registered as an accredited Instructor or Coach with the BHS or HSI will have participated in formal training and achieved professional qualifications. They will also be First Aid trained and have to attend regular Safeguarding and Child Protection courses. They will also have the required insurance in place.


The BHS requires a minimum level of Stage 3 Coach in Complete Horsemanship, to enlist on their professional equestrian coaching body as a BHS Accredited Professional Coach. Horse Sport Ireland will allow HSI Level 1 Apprentice Coaches to be listed, this certificate is a basic and foundation level of teaching. It is strongly recommended that HSI Level 1 Apprentice coaches work under the guidance of a higher qualified coach.

The United Kingdom Coaching Certificates (UKCC) is an endorsement, provided by UK Coaching, of a sport’s own externally awarded qualifications used to ensure the levels and standards of coaches conform to common levels. Most equine coaches who have gained this certification are also registered BHS or HSI Instructors and Coaches.

Veterinary Surgeons

Whether a horse is used for leisure or high level competition, it is vital that injuries and illnesses are dealt with promptly by a qualified vet. It is usually a given that any person practising veterinary medicine is qualified, and that registered equine vets are large animal practitioners that concentrate in health management of horses.  A degree in veterinary science or medicine and registration to either the  Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) or the Veterinary Council of Ireland (VCI) is required to practise as a vet in the UK and Ireland. Equine vets also work closely with equine physiotherapists, dentists and farriers to improve equine health and reduce any unnecessary suffering.

Musculoskeletal Therapists

The Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Animal Therapy (ACPAT) is a Clinical Interest Group of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.  Animal Physiotherapists registered with ACPAT are guaranteed to be fully qualified and fully insured.  The term ‘Chartered Physiotherapist’ is protected by law.  Qualified means a minimum of seven years training – first doing a BSc degree in Physiotherapy, then practicing physiotherapy for a minimum of two years, then a further two years qualifying (generally through the Royal Veterinary College) as an Animal Physiotherapist or Veterinary Physiotherapist.  

A quick way of knowing if a musculoskeletal practitioner (physiotherapist, osteopath or chiropractor) is properly qualified and more importantly insured, is to confirm they are listed on the Registration of Animal Musculoskeletal Practitioners website (RAMP).  RAMP was established in September 2016 aiming to endorse best practice techniques in the industry of animal musculoskeletal therapy.  All RAMP registered practitioners adhere to a strict code of conduct, work within their abilities of practice, and have adequate insurance. 

In recent years further pathways have been developed which offer alternative qualification options within this area of work however it is important to always ensure that you research the practitioner you are intending to use fully and are content with the level of qualification that they hold.  It is a good sign if the practitioner is registered with a credible professional body and they should be able to provide evidence of qualifications and suitable insurance.

Musculoskeletal therapists, such as equine physiotherapists, in the past have had their work underpinned by an Exemption Order to the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 which allows them to only treat an animal that is under the direction of a veterinary surgeon.  Recently these rules have been amended slightly to reflect the consideration that it may not always be necessary for a veterinary referral to be made for maintenance work, such as massage, in a healthy animal.  New guidance has been produced by the RCVS which clarifies that healthy animals do not require veterinary referral for maintenance care.  The guidance also makes it clear that musculoskeletal therapists are part of a vet-led team, and that any animal, including healthy ones, should be registered with a veterinary surgeon and referred to a vet at the first sign of any health issues.

Qualified Saddle Fitters

Equine back problems can often be related to ill-fitting saddles and/or unbalanced riders.  It is important to get your saddle checked regularly to ensure that is remains the best possible fit for both the horse and the rider.  There are two levels of saddle fitter qualifications under the Society of Master Saddlers’ (SMS) which include a registered qualified saddle fitter or a registered master saddle fitter.  To become a qualified saddle fitter the saddler needs to be a fully registered member of the SMS and have been fitting saddles for a minimum of three years alongside holding the SMS Qualified Saddle Fitters Certificate.  To progress to becoming a master saddle fitter saddle fitters are required to have been fitting saddles for a minimum of seven years, hold the SMS Qualified Saddle Fitters Certificate and have supplied a number of references from both their peers and customers.  All SMS Registered Saddle Fitters must follow a Continuous Professional Development program to maintain their registration.

Equine Dentists

It takes on average four years to become a qualified equine dental technician by passing the British Association of Equine Dental Technicians (BAEDT) exam.  Passing this prestigious exam entails collecting case studies and gaining significant practical experience with a qualified equine dentist. It is these qualities which help to safeguard horse welfare and provide peace of mind to the owner. By being a fully qualified member of the BAEDT, it also ensures that they have the full insurance to carry out all the procedures safely. Members are also required to attend regular CPD and implement the Associations high standards of Code of Conduct and have membership of the RCVS (Royal college of Veterinary Surgeons).


The term ‘No foot no horse’ sums up the importance of correct equine foot care. A farrier is an expert in equine hoof care, including the trimming and balancing of horses’ hooves and shoeing if essential.  The first step on the qualification ladder for farriers, is to achieve the Worshipful Company of Farriers Diploma (DIPWCF) which is the stipulated examination for admission to the Register of Farriers.  Registered Farriers are regulated by the Farriers Registration Council and are expected to abide by the Code of Professional Conduct.  In Northern Ireland farriers can register with the Farriers Registration Council but they are not legally obliged to do so.  Qualified farriers can then progress to the Associateship (AWCF), which concentrates on therapeutic and remedial farriery as required by the equine veterinary surgeon in everyday practice.  The highest accord in farriery is Fellowship (FWCF) which recognises the highest level of ability. The Irish Master Farriers’ Association (IMFA) is also a register of fully qualified farriers based in Ireland.

The equine professional qualifications discussed here are viewed as industry benchmarks. They are one way that the general equine public, employers and clients can recognise if a professional in the industry has met the standards in knowledge, skills and codes of practice and conduct set out by professional bodies.