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Five-year project to examine equine-assisted therapy

Wendy Wood: "This is a growing area in the horse industry and in therapeutics, and there is tremendous student interest in this area. This project is a natural fit for Colorado State University."

Wendy Wood: “This is a growing area in the horse industry and in therapeutics, and there is tremendous student interest in this area.” Photo: Colorado State University.

The potential benefits of equine-assisted activity and therapy are to be explored in a major five-year research project in Colorado.

The project, involving a new partnership between two of Colorado State University’s flagship academic programs, is the result of a $US468,000 gift from the Carl and Caroline Swanson Foundation.

Its backers hopes it will lead to a better understanding of the potential benefits of horse-related therapy.

The program will be led by Wendy Wood, head of of the university’s Department of Occupational Therapy. She will be joined by two graduate students and a doctoral candidate in the research, carried out in partnership with the university’s equine sciences program.

Equine-assisted therapy was an area of study that appeared to have tremendous promise, Wood said. Therapists, she said, have long known about the special connection between horses and riders, but there was limited documented research on the effectiveness of equine-assisted therapy.

“This is a terrifically exciting opportunity for me,” she said. “I love being on the ground floor of projects, and the resources at Colorado State to launch this project are exemplary. It’s a synergy that’s meant to happen, and I’m excited to spearhead the program.”

Part of the project will involve documenting existing research, but Wood and her graduate students will do their own research at the university’s Equine Center.

A good deal of that work is expected to be completed at the proposed Temple Grandin Research Center at the Equine Center, expected to be completed in two years.

Jerry Black, who directs the equine sciences program, said: “When you look at the quality of our occupational therapy and equine science programs, if there’s ever going to be any great work done in this area, this is the place it will happen.

“This is a growing area in the horse industry and in therapeutics, and there is tremendous student interest in this area. This project is a natural fit for Colorado State University.”

Black said the project would focus on research, education and outreach.

The project participants said while there was anecdotal evidence and even some documented evidence of the benefits of equine-assisted therapy, there was a great need for research-based evidence.

Students, many looking at equine-assisted therapy as a profession, will be on the front lines of the project, working with people dealing with traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism and other challenges.

Black continued: “One of the program’s great benefits is that we can offer these kinds of services to people right here in Northern Colorado, using those services as a basis for research and education.”

Wood will step down as head of the Department of Occupational Therapy to focus on the project. She had served as head for six years.

Rick and Lori Bucholz are trustees of the Carl and Caroline Swanson Foundation. Bucholz said: “Lori and I look for meaningful and sustainable support opportunities.

“The equine science program and occupational therapy marriage is one of the rare finds. We’re honored to be able to make a difference for Colorado State University.”

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