Cal Poly students can go to the Health Center and receive counseling — but some are exploring a more unconventional outlet for therapy: horses. According to Sarah Stewart, an equine lecturer at Cal Poly, equine therapy is a treatment using a horse to help improve one’s mental, psychological or physical health.  

On Friday from 1-4 p.m., students from across different majors are partaking in equine therapy led by students in the Animal Production and Management Enterprise (ASCI 290-18) course.

The event, called “Equine-Assisted Activities — an adaptive and therapeutic experience,” will consist of three different sections: an adaptive riding demonstration, a horsemanship station and a demonstration on the ground. Eight of the close to 120 horses on Cal Poly’s campus will be used for the workshop.

The workshop will be a collaboration between the kinesiology unit and the animal science unit. Psychology students will be invited to attend, as well. Stewart expects to have 30 participants in attendance from all three majors.

The 14 students in the animal science class meet twice a week and alternate every other week in the classroom and at the equine unit to learn how equine-assisted activities can be used as a method of therapy. 

Animal science junior Belle Robertson said enterprises like these are like an internship, providing students with hands-on learning experience interacting with the animals.

The mock-adaptive riding lesson will be led by students in the course and explained by Stewart as the demonstration takes place. The horsemanship station allows people physically unable to ride a horse to benefit from interacting with them. Finally, the third station will provide a demonstration of how horses can be used for psychotherapy purposes.

Equine-assisted psychotherapy requires a therapist and involves a client — using the horse as a tool. It’s a non-riding experience that gives the client moment-to-moment feedback about their own thoughts and moods. Instead of talking about their feelings, the client is present in the moment with the horse. 

While there are three types of therapy used in the equine industry, the one highlighted in the upcoming workshop will be therapeutic riding. This is horseback riding adapted to an individual and focused on contributing to the participant’s cognitive, physical, emotional and social well-being. This type of therapy requires a licensed equine professional and a licensed therapeutic riding professional.

The new course, only established last year, was planning on hosting a similar event last quarter that was rescheduled due to the rainstorm.

Equine therapy is something that’s newly researched but has become practiced across the country. 

One of the first associations conducting research on therapeutic riding is the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International, which started in 1969. They promote safe and effective therapeutic riding in the United States and Canada. 

Therapeutic riding provides individuals without the ability to walk with an experience similar to walking. Someone unable to walk, “can benefit quite greatly from that sensation of being on a horse’s back,” because the biomechanics of a horse’s walk mirror that of a human, Stewart said.

While this particular event is not open to all students, Stewart hopes to one day have an equine therapy unit on campus that can benefit all of San Luis Obispo.