Blue Rocking Pony

- Home Page -

- What's New -

- Calendar -

- About CATRA -

- Donate -

- Contact Us -



by Ben H. Nolt, Jr., AAS, Octavia J. Brown, MEd, Jan Spink, MA, and Jean M.Tebay, MS

January 1994

for the 8th International Congress on Therapeutic Riding,

University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand

It is a great pleasure to be here today, half a world away from my horse; to celebrate our 8th international congress. There has been so much development since those early days twenty years ago. Then, many of us called what we did Riding for the Handicapped; offering horseback riding as an adapted sport and recreation for individuals with a wide variety of disabling conditions. We went on to become more sophisticated, recognizing that what we did had therapeutic benefits; and in some European countries research was conducted to PROVE the therapeutic benefits of using the horse.

Training and education for personnel involved for our activities varied widely from country to country and from approach to approach. The rare individual involved had both a professional understanding of the therapeutic aspects of the horse and also enough equine background to be able to maximize the use of the horse in a specific setting.

In the United States over the last twenty years, courses have been offered that would educate and train interested individuals in the methods and techniques needed to conduct equine activities for people with disabilities. All kinds of individuals came to these courses from novice riders, to special education teachers, to physical therapists, to the proverbial little old ladies in green wellies with big hearts but no expertise in horses or handicapping conditions. No course was university based.

But now we are at a stage of maturity in therapeutic riding where, in order for this discipline to be fully accepted as having therapeutic merit and the personnel involved in it to be considered true professionals, education and training needs to be of the highest caliber and at the highest level. It needs to be competency based, and available in university settings. This has been the dream of a handful of Americans for the past decade. And today, we are here to tell that we did it, and to share how we did it; hoping that some of you may want to use our ideas to foster acceptance of therapeutic riding as an educational option within your universities.

As a first example, I would like to tell you about our program at the Pennsylvania State University. Penn State, as it is known, is regarded as one of the country's leading universities. It is a major multicampus university serving all regions of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania . Its nine undergraduate colleges and the School of Communications now offer 141 baccalaureate and 25 associate degree majors. It has a student body of 70,000 who can choose from 5,545 undergraduate courses and 3,488 graduate courses and 176 medical courses. Graduate students may choose from 150 approved fields of study. There are over 5,000 members of the faculty.

The Pennsylvania State University has been supportive of the use of the horse as a therapeutic modality for the past fifteen years. Upon recognition of the tremendous potential of the therapeutic riding industry the university accepted a proposal to offer an accredited course on the topic through the College of Agricultural Sciences. The initial course offering titled "Equine Facilitated Therapy" attracted wide interest from university students enrolled in various major courses of study. Today we continue to receive many inquiries from throughout the United States from potential students who are interested in pursuing a career in therapeutic horseback riding. As well, instructors in equine educational programs at other universities are contacting Penn State in an effort to learn how to include this topic as an academic discipline.

The primary goal of this particular course is to acquaint the student with equine facilitated therapy and to introduce them to individuals who participate in such programs. Additionally, this course is designed to introduce students to various disabling conditions which may benefit from exposure to and participation in equine facilitated therapy and other animal related therapy programs. Student objectives for the course are as follows:

  1. trace the historical development of therapeutic riding,
  2. identify mental, emotional and physical handicapping conditions which may benefit from equine facilitated therapy,
  3. identify medical indications/contraindications to equine facilitated therapy,
  4. describe the emotional, physical and medical benefits of equine facilitated therapy,
  5. identify other forms of animal assisted therapy,
  6. identify equipment and supplies used in equine facilitated therapy,
  7. develop the ability to identify a suitable therapeutic riding horse, understand desirable traits, training methods and proper horse management,
  8. explain the role of the instructor and the volunteer in therapeutic riding,
  9. develop educational and recreational activities applicable for a therapeutic riding program,
  10. conduct an in depth investigation of a disabling condition,
  11. participate in a practicum at an approved therapeutic riding program, and
  12. view and evaluate an approved therapeutic riding program(s).

Most students have little or no contact with individuals who are disabled. This course not only provides students with a basic orientation to people with disabilities but also allows students to work one on one with people with disabilities through equine facilitated therapy. This course portrays the beneficial relationship between the rider and his/her mount, highlighting not only the physical benefits but also the emotional and educational benefits associated with this type of therapy. This exposure and level of interaction plays a critical role in their future attitude and interaction with individuals who are disabled.

The course, Equine Facilitated Therapy , compliments the undergraduate/graduate program in agricultural and extension education. Many agricultural/extension education graduates, whether they secure jobs in formal or nonformal education, are in contact with people who are disabled. This course has application for all individuals who may be interacting, instructing and/or working with people who are disabled. Additionally, it will provide students different perspectives and levels of experience. These exposures and levels of interaction will play a critical role in their future attitudes and interactions with people who are disabled. For those interested in education this course will broaden their future educational philosophy (formal and nonformal) and teaching repertoire.

We conducted evaluations of our courses, and have received favorable response from all evaluations and we are now considering expansion of this curriculum to include all phases of animal assisted therapy. Several students have expressed an interest in development of a graduate studies program in this area. In 1993, we initiated this graduate degree program, designing an individualized course of study that will result in our first Masters degree in Equine Facilitated Therapy.

The course is a typical lecture course, with many audio visual opportunities, reading assignments, and on site practicum. The students are required to write a term paper on a disability of their choice, and relate it to the therapeutic riding setting. In addition, students are given the chance to visit therapeutic riding programs in the state (Pennsylvania has over 60 such programs) and work as helpers in a program on the university campus. This "hands-on" opportunity is very popular with all of the students.

If the student wishes to continue with this discipline he or she can design a multi-discipline major involving several different colleges and courses to attain the knowledge necessary to work effectively in therapeutic riding. For example, he might take courses in special education, handicapped education, psychology, and nursing. And these informational courses combined with practical experience at one of our state approved riding centers, would give the student the necessary background to perform, after university graduation, as a trained professional in therapeutic riding.

It is our desire as a progressive university to continue to develop areas of study to meet the demands of our students. Providing and education in Equine Facilitated Therapy has helped to open the door to the future.

In a quite different setting, let us now look at Centenary College, in Hackettstown, New Jersey. This college is a small, independent four year co-educational college of approximately 900 students. It offers degree programs in liberal arts and specific career areas. Centenary has an Equine Studies Division which accounts for almost twenty-five percent of the entire student body. This program is located three miles from the college campus at the Filly Hill Equestrian Center. The college owns about 50 horses, and another 30 or so are boarded by students.

The college offers six Equine Career choices. Equine Studies students must choose one career track in their 3rd college year. One of the six career tracks, new to the college this year, is Handicapped Riding Instruction. Courses required to obtain a diploma in this career track include Theories of Riding, Methods of Teaching Riding, Equestrian Skills, Developmental Psychology, and Theories of Learning for the Handicapped Child. A total of 17 riding classes (of 1 credit unit each) is offered; from Basic Riding to Advanced Riding, Dressage, and Combined Training.

Graduates of the College's Equine Studies Program enter such professions as racing stable manager, breeding farm director, and riding school teacher. Those students who graduate from the Handicapped Riding Instruction track will be qualified to work in a therapeutic riding program as an instructor, or as a program director, or as the equine professional on a therapy team that might include either a physical therapist, a psychologist, or a special education teacher.

This year, for the first time, Centenary College will offer Introduction to Therapeutic Riding as a one-semester three credit course. In this course students will be introduced to the history, background and practice of therapeutic riding. After completing the course, students will have knowledge of major disabling conditions, how to apply and adapt riding and teaching techniques for these conditions, and how to perform the duties of an instructor's aide in therapeutic riding lessons. Students will gain a working knowledge of selecting and training horses used in such lessons, selecting and training volunteer helpers, and working as a part of the instructional team.

The text book is: "Therapeutic Riding Programs: Instruction and Rehabilitation, A Handbook for Instructors and Therapists," edited by Barbara T. Engel, 1992. Course goals are attached to the printed edition of this presentation.

In the third and final example of obtaining professional status for the therapeutic riding specialist, we turn to Shenandoah University in the Virginia foothills. Located in Winchester, Virginia, it has both college and graduate level degree programs. It has a School of Health Professions, under whose auspices the course titled Equine Assisted Therapy will be offered.

This course will be open to qualified health professionals, including licensed physical, occupational, and speech therapists, psychologists, rehabilitation specialists, and special education professionals. It will emphasize skills in horsemanship, riding therapy methodology and techniques, and data collection.

It will not emphasize teaching riding to the disabled, and is not available to riding instructors. It will be strictly limited to medical specialists at the post-graduate level who have enough horsmanship competency to qualify for training in developmental riding therapy and hippotherapy; collectively referred to here as equine-assisted therapy.

Developmental riding therapy is a treatment focused approach which uses the horse as a prescriptive movement platform to achieve various motor, cognitive and/or affective goals. In this treatment focused approach, the quality and training of the therapy horse; how its movement can be prescriptively matched to each client's unique need, is paramount to the integrity of the therapeutic practice. This critical area will be the major emphasis of this course.

This comprehensive training program will be divided into four training modules, totaling 28 days, each module having its own theme and major competency area. The course is structured in a 21 day intensive training period, for Modules I, II, and III. There is a ten month time lapse before students return to Module IV, lasting 7 days. This allows therapists time to practice and develop skills within their own communities and practices before returning for course completion. Module I includes Horsemanship and Equestrian Science; Module II deals with the theory, methodology, and applicability of hippo-therapy, and Module III teaches developmental riding therapy - theory, methodology, and applicability. The 10-month off-site practical learning period is monitored by staff visits and video tape review. Module IV includes combined skills, a competency practicum and final assessment. Certification, by examination, is granted to those successfully completing the training.

We have provided here three examples in which therapeutic riding has been integrated into existing university educational programs. We feel that by using this method of integrating our field into existing related university professional degree programs we can achieve two major goals: one, to gain professional validity by joining hands with an already accepted profession, and two, to provide a new level of specifically trained, university educated personnel to work in the field of therapeutic riding.

As therapeutic riding gains acceptance as a rehabilitation method for individuals with disabilities, the need for university trained professionals is uppermost. To work with colleges and universities to develop curriculum in therapeutic riding is an important step in making our field more academically established.

Thank you.


Please Give!poster girl


Capital Area Therapeutic Riding Association, INC.
PO Box 339, Grantville, PA 17028
717-469-7517, catra@catra.net