COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A native of Detroit, Anikka Smith didn’t have any experience with horses before she landed an internship with Delaware County’s Equi-Valent Riding Center last year. But the animal sciences major at Ohio State University always felt an affinity for animals, and horses were no exception.
The nonprofit center, which shut down operations at the end of 2013 when the owner moved out of state, was where Smith got her first taste of equine-assisted therapy.
“For the internship, I was supposed to work a minimum of 200 hours, but I figured that I would work at least 300 hours. I ended up staying for almost a year. By August, I was there almost every day, practically living in the trailer they had,” said Smith, who is starting her senior year at Ohio State.
Now, Smith is eagerly anticipating taking a course being offered for the first time this fall, Equine Assisted Therapy. It is being led by Kim Cole, associate professor of animal sciences and equine specialist for Ohio State University Extension. Both the Department of Animal Sciences and OSU Extension are part of Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.
Cole said she hopes the course broadens student awareness of how horses can be used in therapy.
“It seems like a lot of students think of equine-assisted therapy only in terms of therapeutic riding, but there are many other ways horses can be used in a therapeutic setting,” she said.
After initial classes on equine behavior and physiology and an overview of different forms of assistive therapy, Cole will bring in experienced professionals to talk to students about using horses with different populations, including:
- Military combat veterans.
- Cancer patients.
- At-risk youth.
- Prison populations.
- People with eating disorders.
- People suffering from addiction.
- People with autism, Asperger’s syndrome or other pervasive development disorders.
- People with physical disabilities.
The course also will cover different models of equine-assisted therapy as well as management of therapy programs, she said.
“My goal is to highlight the importance of health professionals and equine professionals working together to provide equine-assisted therapy and activities,” Cole said. “Maybe students who are really interested and coming through the animal science program will do a disability studies minor, or maybe we’ll have students majoring in health sciences who will want to minor in animal science. They can be that professional with both mental health and equine experience.”
That’s just the blend that Smith, who is minoring in disability studies, is looking for. With both a mother and a sister who suffer from sickle cell anemia, Smith has always been drawn to the medical profession, “but nursing is not for me,” she said.
“My sister practically grew up in a hospital,” she said. “Toward the end of my internship last summer, I put her on a horse for the first time, and her reaction was priceless. Before she got on, she wasn’t feeling too well, like she feels right before she has a pain episode, and she didn’t want to do it. But she got on the horse -- I was so proud of her -- and we got her up to a trot, and she felt amazing. She said everything she felt up to that moment went away.”
The class is capped at 18 students and will meet once a week for a one-hour lecture followed by a two-hour hands-on lab.
Smith is enthusiastic.
“I’m pumped, not only for myself, but for the people in this class who may not have any experience with equine-assisted therapy yet. I’m excited to see the smiles on their faces when they realize the joy you can bring to someone else’s life with this.”