West Virginia University’s equine therapy program is helping change the
lives of people with disabilities, providing the training for nuanced care for
both physical and mental impairments.
“Horse therapy is not only for people with physical disabilities; it also supports
mental health and overall stability,” said Carol Petitto, an adjunct instructor
Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources & Design, said. “Those
who benefit include people with autism, visual impairment, emotional disabilities
and brain injuries. We have found it is beneficial for at-risk students and even
Petitto teaches the online course
Introduction to Equine Assisted Activity and Therapies, and is the director
of On Eagles’ Wings Therapeutic Horsemanship in Fairmont.
On Eagles’ Wings recently began bringing a mini-horse to the
WVU Medicine Children’s once a month to visit the patients. At one visit,
a non-speaking child was motivated to speak after interacting with the horse. The
hospital program also provides an opportunity for medical students to learn about
how equine therapy techniques can supplement what they are learning in the classroom.
“Ultimately, therapeutic horsemanship is a rewarding profession that covers a broad
spectrum and helps a lot of people,” Petitto said. “What we do is life-changing.”
She said On Eagles’ Wings provides hippotherapy, a treatment strategy that uses the
horse’s natural, dynamic, three-dimensional movement, which mimics the walk of
a human. In addition to muscle strength, the rhythmic motion of horse riding often
helps riders with physical disabilities to improve in flexibility and balance.
This therapy gives them confidence and has helped some children who couldn’t walk
to get on their feet for the first time, she said.
Introduction to Equine Assisted Activity and Therapies, is offered by
WVU Continuing Professional Education.
This fun, innovative course provides basic skills in equine assisted therapy, including
hippotherapy and related mental health activities. It is open to adults who want
to learn the ins and outs of therapeutic horseback riding, who are interested in
careers in the industry, or who just want to work with horses as a volunteer.
Petitto developed this blended course, which consists of online sessions combined
with a one-day clinic in June at the On Eagles’ Wings riding facility. The spring
2017 online course takes place in April and May, and registration is going on now
through April 15. Students may
register online or call 1.800.253.2762. The cost is $199 and the course
is non-credit, although physical and occupational therapists can earn contact hours
and continuing education credits.
CONTACT: Sherry Kuehn, WVU Continuing Professional Education