New NDSU equine-assisted therapy program accredited
Riding a horse can be an intimidating experience, especially for a child who is frightened and struggling with physical challenges.
This summer, one little boy was so fearful the first time he got on a horse that he was shaking and crying for his mom. But after just a few minutes on the horse, he didn’t want to get down.
This youngster was one of 38 people from 4 to 50 years old who participated in the newly named Bison Strides Equine-assisted Activities and Therapies (EAAT) program. It’s offered through the Equine Science Program in North Dakota State University’s Animal Sciences Department.
Bison Strides teaches horsemanship skills to people with physical, cognitive, emotional, behavioral or mental health challenges through weekly adapted therapeutic riding lessons. These lessons are available throughout the year.
Bison Strides partnered with Beyond Boundaries Therapy Services of Fargo this summer to pilot a physical and occupational therapy program that implements equine movement, also known as hippotherapy. Parents and instructors reported improvements in the riders’ motor skills and self-confidence, as well as greater strength and independence.
The Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.) recently accredited Bison Strides, making it North Dakota’s only premier accredited center. Just 31 percent of the 880 PATH Intl. centers have earned this status.
Accreditation for programs providing EAAT services consists of a site visit from two independent evaluators who assess more than 100 standards in administration, facilities and programming. Bison Strides achieved a score of 97 percent.
“Achieving premier accredited center status in such a short time frame from the program’s beginning in May 2017 was truly a team effort with EAAT participants, therapists, volunteers, Equine Science faculty and staff,” says Erika Berg, an associate professor in the Animal Sciences Department and Bison Strides director.
Centers must be reaccredited every five years, with standards being field tested on a continual basis and revised every two years to reflect best industry practices.
Berg says all of the participants made incredible improvements this summer. For example:
One rider who doesn’t speak is learning to use an iPad so she can communicate her everyday wants and needs. EAAT instructors and volunteers added four commands – whoa, walk on, turn left and turn right – to the iPad so she could instruct her horse during lessons. She advanced from randomly pressing commands to purposely and correctly instructing her horse for 75 percent of the lesson.
A parent reported that her son was able to keep his body and emotions under control for six hours after just one 30-minute equine-assisted therapy session. He had never been able to do that before, the parent said.
Bison Strides also has a second goal: providing students in NDSU’s Therapeutic Horsemanship minor program with experiential teaching and learning opportunities. Five students from that program taught 72 hours of lessons during the eight-week program. In addition, 12 physical therapy students from the University of Jamestown gained knowledge of their discipline by volunteering about 190 hours of time to assist the program’s participants.
“Having the opportunity to teach through this program was a unique learning experience that prepared me for success in the PATH Intl. Therapeutic Riding Instructor certification,” says Hannah Swenson, an NDSU student majoring in Equine Science major and minoring in Therapeutic Horsemanship.
Another 33 volunteers from NDSU, Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., and the Fargo-Moorhead community donated about 280 hours of their time during the program. Two occupational therapists and two physical therapists from Beyond Boundaries Therapy Services provided weekly occupational and physical therapy services using equine movement to 16 children.
Students in NDSU professor Tim Peterson’s upper-level Understanding and Managing Diversity in Organizations class brainstormed ideas for naming and marketing the program.
“And, of course, none of this would have been possible without the extraordinary therapy horses and their owners,” Berg says.
Seven horses, including two belonging to an alumni of the Equine Science Program, were part of the program this summer.
Fall adapted riding lessons are in full swing through the end of October and Berg hopes to continue Bison Strides’ partnership with Beyond Boundaries Therapy Services in the spring.