News From Terre Haute, Indiana

June 28, 2012

Horse Therapy: The Woods launches equine therapy minor

Dan Reed
St. Mary-of-the-Woods College

TERRE HAUTE — What do a child with autism, a woman coping with depression and a man struggling with a traumatic brain injury have in common? A life changing experience with an unexpected partner — a horse.

St. Mary-of-the-Woods College, known for distinguished programs with creative techniques in mental health (art therapy, music therapy), will unveil a new minor in the fall of 2012, where undergraduate students can explore the use of horses to promote growth, learning and psychological well-being.

The human equine-facilitated therapy minor, developed by the department of social sciences and the department of equine studies, reflects SMWC’s mission to prepare students for meaningful careers and service to others, said Janet Clark, vice president for academic affairs.

“This unique minor is a natural extension of SMWC’s strengths,” Clark said. “Capitalizing on our nationally renowned equine program and excellent social sciences program creates a powerful combination for delivering another program of distinction. Our students care deeply about service to others and this new minor gives them another outlet to make a difference.”

Equine-based approaches are emerging as valuable components of counseling, education and leadership development programs. The interaction of the individual with the horse leads people to think beyond their usual patterns to increased confidence, self-esteem and an understanding of themselves and others.

The human equine-facilitated therapy minor enables students to apply therapy principles and practices to their own field of study.

Each student selects an emphasis in one of three areas — mental health, education or organizational leadership. The minor will complement a major in business administration, education, equine studies, human resource management, human services and psychology. Pursuing this minor will add a new facet to a career, particularly if the objective is to become a counselor, educator or business leader.

“We are excited about teaching in new ways. This minor emphasizes leadership and applied skills, transcending disciplinary boundaries,” said Christine Wilkey, associate professor of human services. “This program will develop skills that our graduates can take with them anywhere they go.”

The human equine-facilitated therapy minor emphasizes “on the ground” approaches rather than those that include riding. Students will study equine and human behavior to design and implement interventions using horses.

This therapy is increasingly used to help people with a wide range of needs. Some of those who benefit from equine-facilitated therapies are:

• at-risk youth

• children with behavioral problems, special learning needs or autism

• adults and children who have experienced family violence

• people in recovery from substance abuse or addiction

• people with depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder, and

• returning veterans.

Equine-based learning activities are also widely used for organizational leadership training and nonprofit organizations to teach teamwork skills that improve productivity. “Students will master problem solving, leadership, and communication skills, and will deepen their understanding of individuals and groups,” Wilkey said. “These attributes are highly valued in the workplace.”