Colorado State University hosts therapeutic-riding conference

A therapeutic-riding conference at Colorado State University this month is expected to herald new learning opportunities for students in CSU’s renowned Equine Sciences Program.

The Equine Sciences Program is hosting its first Therapeutic Horsemanship Summit May 17-19 for about 25 invited experts representing academic programs, therapeutic-riding programs, healthcare and the horse industry. The summit is co-sponsored by the American Quarter Horse Association and North American Riding for the Handicapped Association.

The summit will help the CSU Equine Sciences Program identify new opportunities in the burgeoning field of equine-assisted activities and therapies, said Gary Carpenter, summit organizer. It likely will lead to new class offerings for equine students interested in therapeutic-riding instruction and other ways of using horses to help people with specific health and wellness needs, he said.

“The use of horses is growing tremendously in specialized programs to help people, and we’d like to help prepare our equine students to fulfill these needs,” said Carpenter, industry outreach and liaison director for the CSU Equine Sciences Program. “Experiential learning is a hallmark of our program at CSU, and we see lots of opportunity with equine-assisted activities and therapies.”

“Equine-assisted activities and therapies” is an umbrella term referring to the use of horses and horseback riding to help people with a wide range of disabilities and needs. For example, therapeutic-riding programs offer specialized classes that teach people with disabilities to ride horses; the classes impart physical and mental-health benefits and have been championed for about four decades by the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association and other organizations nationwide.

In recent years, therapeutic-riding programs have grown to meet the needs of military veterans coping with physical impairments and post-traumatic stress syndrome. Likewise, many programs meet the needs of a growing community of children and adults with autism.

This is a use of therapeutic riding endorsed by Temple Gradin, an animal scientist and professor with autism who has gained worldwide fame for her livestock-related teaching and research at CSU. Grandin, a self-proclaimed “horse nut,” said the responsibilities and work skills that accompany riding – such as feeding and other chores – can be as beneficial as riding itself.

“There’s lots of literature to support the use of therapeutic riding for people with autism,” said Grandin, who became a committed horseback rider as a teenager in boarding school. “I’ve had parents tell me that their kids’ first words came when they were riding.”

The CSU Equine Sciences Program now offers a class called Techniques in Therapeutic Riding, open to students with any major, said Sharon Butler, class instructor. The class is provided in partnership with a Fort Collins non-profit called Front Range Exceptional Equestrians; CSU students in the class assist riders with disabilities, see firsthand the benefits of therapeutic riding and gain an understanding of skills needed for instructor certification.

Butler said she envisions exposing CSU students to other options, such as equine-assisted psychotherapy and hippotherapy, in which horseback riding is used as a treatment strategy in physical, occupational and speech-language therapy sessions for people with disabilities.

“We want to show CSU students what’s out there so they can combine their interests and say, ‘With my degree, I could do this,’” Butler said.

CSU established its Equine Sciences Program in 1986; it was the first program in the nation to offer a four-year equine-science degree. The program annually enrolls about 400 undergraduates from across the country.

For more information about the Techniques in Therapeutic Riding class, contact Sharon Butler, (970) 491-8373 or