VFCC Launches Equine Therapy Track

by Office of Marketing | Jul 23, 2009
Following approval by the Academic Affairs Committee, the Behavioral Sciences department at Valley Forge Christian College launched a new concentration track in Equine Studies beginning with the fall 2009 semester. The Equine Studies Track is an experientially-based program that provides a foundation for understanding the therapeutic use of horses. The academic offerings in the track familiarize students with this unique form of therapy shown to be effective with patients who suffer from mental health disorders such as depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorders, dissociative disorders, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), eating disorders, dementia and autism. 

Experientially-based therapeutic programs represent an approach to mental health involving activities unassociated with the disorders affecting a client. In this approach, individuals are placed in "real life" situations where it is necessary to employ problem-solving or otherwise creative methods of working with the environment or context at hand. Effective experiential activities involve the participant in situations where the client must take some form of action to successfully cope with their surroundings. Such activities resemble outbound programs and may take the form of activities such as hiking, rock climbing, or kayaking, and may include team-based initiatives or games. One of the successes of experiential therapeutic programs is that they have been found useful in situations where traditional talk therapies fail. 

The four course track includes an introduction to equine anatomy, physiology, basic health care issues, and understanding as well as interpreting horse behavior; riding skills and techniques which include classroom lecture/discussion and field experience focusing on controlling the horse at walk; therapeutic horsemanship which includes basic counseling facilitation skills, the theoretical model of equine therapy, experiential learning with the student assuming the "client" role, and field observation at a therapeutic riding center; and a supervised practicum at a local therapeutic riding center. 

The two nationally recognized trade associations, North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) and the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) represent contrasting approaches for therapeutic equine programs. The NARHA model is a rider-based model which necessarily incorporates the development of riding skills into the therapeutic experience. The EAGALA model is a non-riding model in which therapeutic outcomes derive from the relationship between the horse and the client. Students at Valley Forge will be exposed to the EAGALA model. 

For more information on this program and other programs in the behavioral sciences, contact Dr. David Scolforo, chair of the Behavioral Sciences department at Valley Forge Christian College.