Stepping into the stirrup: Keiser University Tallahassee OTA students gain hands-on learning of equine therapy

Keiser University Tallahassee students are hitting their stride with new learning opportunities outside the classroom.

“Each horse walks different and they have a different posture,” said student Darlene McCrae. “Putting that towards therapy and how it can help kids do different things that they’re having struggles within their daily lives.”

In June, the Occupational Therapy Assistant program traveled to Hands and Hearts for Horses, an equine facility in Thomasville, Georgia, specializing in therapy and rehabilitation. The facility also serves children in the Thomasville community hosting summer camps and field trips. According to Hands and Hearts for Horses, these activities provide children, with or without disabilities, a chance to learn tolerance, compassion, and respect.

During a community field trip, students in the OTA program learned about hippotherapy, a practice which utilizes a horse’s movement to improve motor and neurologic functions, and sensory processing. The students provided “side assistance” to the young riders, walking alongside the horses as the children rode and moved their core, building strength and stability through each exercise.

The students also learned about different gait movements and patterns of the horses, and how different body shapes and gaits can be more effective for individual riders and the disability they may struggle with.

“It brings it together, like everything you learn in class and coming out and actually doing it and seeing it,” said student Anastasia Battle. “It definitely makes the connection.”

Another student, Symone Stokes, said the experience allowed them to see a different side of occupational therapy, and solidified the impact it can have on a young person’s life.

“I know with OT, you’re having that one-on-one, hands on with your patients, and that’s what I want,” Stokes said. “To see the different effects that it has on the kids, like the child we had when we were first doing, I saw how it instantly calmed him.”

This was Keiser University’s first trip to Hands and Hearts for Horses, but program staff hope to continue this partnership, opening the door for more students to work with children and see the impacts of equine therapy.

Student Carshinda Johnsons says getting out of the classroom and working with other people can also open their eyes to a new demographic of care, and point them in a new direction where they want to take their careers, like pediatrics versus geriatrics patients.

“You can pick things up in the classroom, but until you actually get out there in it, it is a different ball game. It definitely makes a difference to be able to get out and see these things firsthand,” Johnson said. “Being someone who makes a difference, whether it’s kids, geriatrics, whatever. However I can make a difference, I feel like I’m doing my job.”

After the field trip, Johnson says she plans to begin volunteering with Hands and Hearts for Horses to continue helping the community.

Keiser University is a private, independent, non-profit university serving nearly 20,000 students at 21 Florida campuses, online, and two international sites. Co-founded in 1977 by Chancellor Arthur Keiser, Ph.D., and Evelyn Keiser, Keiser University currently offers more than 100 degrees from associates to the doctoral level. Keiser University is a  designated Hispanic-Serving Institution, a member of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, and was ranked No. 5 in the U.S. in Social Mobility by U.S. News And World Report in 2022.

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