Riding high at therapy camp
Grad students combine horseback riding with speech therapy
At first glance, UNCG’s Horsepower Experience looks like any other horseback riding camp, but it’s much more.
Over the past 13 summers, graduate students in UNCG’s Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) program have spent two weeks at HORSEPOWER Therapeutic Learning Center in Colfax.
They use horses to provide therapy to individuals with communication disorders alongside various physical, emotional and developmental needs. This year, for the first time, Horsepower Experience focused on language fluency.
“It’s a boutique skill we’re able to offer CSD graduate students,” said Perry Flynn, UNCG clinical educator.
Research shows that the motion of riding a horse can stimulate children, and they are more likely to talk to or about a horse than they would in a traditional therapy environment.
The graduate students worked one-on-one with preschool and school age children who struggle with stuttering and articulation, as well as expressive and receptive language. As campers learned about, cared for and rode horses, CSD students asked them leading questions to engage them in conversation.
“That was great talking,” Flynn said to one camper. “Can you say that again with smooth speech?”
Michelle Forrest, a graduate student, asked another child questions about a puzzle he was working on as he awaited his turn to ride.
Once all the campers were in the ring, they verbally repeated each step as they worked their way through an obstacle course.
Flynn and fellow faculty member Lisa McDonald lead the camp, which offers 30 hours of free, individualized therapy to participants. It also counts as a clinical practicum experience for the CSD students.
Claire Cuthrell was paired with a nonverbal 3-year-old during the two-week camp. It was Cuthrell’s first experience with hippotherapy, something that’s always intrigued her.
“I can see huge improvements on a day-to-day basis (in the campers),” she said.
Story by Jeanie McDowell, University Relations
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Relations