Therapeutic Division

down-syndrome-children-horseriding therapeutic photos

The Therapeutic Division will serve campus participants across the lifespan, from toddlers to seniors. The UA Equestrian Therapeutic Division is partnering with four other UA programs to make this possible:

  • Adapted Athletics, which provides opportunities for competitive sports and recreational activities for UA students with disabilities.
  • Brewer-Porch Center for Children, which serves troubled teens with residential and nonresidential programs.
  • Capstone Village, a senior living community.
  • RISE Center, enriching the lives of preschoolers with and without disabilities.

In addition, the School of Social Work is partnering with the Therapeutic Division for groundbreaking research and a degree program on equine therapies.

What are equine-assisted activities and therapies?

Equine-assisted activities and therapies (EAAT) primarily serve individuals with physical, cognitive, or emotional challenges. EAAT is based on interactions between humans and horses. There are multiple programs possible under the EAAT umbrella. Three examples follow:

  • Therapeutic riding. This is the most typical program offered. It offers the joy and fun of learning how to ride while also offering many therapeutic benefits to riders. For example, a child with cerebral palsy can improve core strength, trunk control and balance. Stroke victims can also benefit in various ways from riding and interacting with horses. Or a child on the autism spectrum can improve communications and social skills. It also builds confidence and is fun!
  • Equine Assisted Learning (EAL). Though EAL programs can include riding, most focus on using unmounted lessons to benefit students. Curriculum can be created to achieve goals that range from academics to social skills. Add a “class room” in a barn, a four-legged teacher known as the horse, and a good dose of fun to the mix for powerful learning opportunities.
  • Hippotherapy. If you’ve ever undergone physical therapy and used a ball, then just imagine that your therapist has a different “treatment strategy” for you in place of the ball – a horse. That’s the basis of hippotherapy, whose name is based on the Greek word for horse, “hippo.” Therapists in physical, occupational or speech-language therapy complete specialized training to learn how to use the horse as a treatment strategy. Unlike therapeutic riding, where the rider is learning how to ride and control the horse, the therapist controls the horse’s movement and interactions between horse and patient to achieve specific therapy goals.

EAAT also includes equine-facilitated psychotherapy, therapeutic carriage driving, interactive vaulting and more. Whatever the program, the horse is the ultimate teacher and therapist.

Why the horse?

In today’s technology driven world, you may wonder: Why horses? What benefits come from interactions with horses, who are definitely “high touch” not “high tech.” The short answer: Many!

For starters, no device or technology-based experience can match the horse’s movement, which closely resembles the three-dimensional gait of a human walking. Because of that, individuals who have mobility challenges can get the experience of “walking” while mounted on a horse. Riding also strengthens the core, improves balance, strength and flexibility, and can improve overall body awareness. Interactions with horses – or equines to use the broader term – can also improve communications, social skills, sensory input, and confidence. Research has shown that individuals who participate in therapeutic riding can experience physical, emotional and mental rewards. For example, an individual with cerebral palsy may gain more trunk control, which can result in him/her being able to sit straighter, breathe easier and speak better. An individual on the autism spectrum may see improved communications and/or social connections.

Equines have also been used for physical, occupational, speech-language or mental health therapy. EAAT can serve persons from toddlers to seniors through mounted, ground or driving programs. Specifically, therapy-based participants can begin at age 2 due to the hands-on involvement of the specially trained and licensed therapists while those participating in therapeutic riding or other EAAT programs can begin at age 4.

UA non-therapy programs will be taught by instructors certified by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.), the leading organization for safety and quality of EAAT programs.

Can any horse be used in EAAT activities?

Though many perceive EAAT programs as a “pony ride” or a low stress job for a horse, the opposite is true. It takes a very special equine to serve as a therapeutic horse. The equine must deal with a variety of challenged participants including unbalanced riders, must have the patience of a saint, must be willing to tolerate up to three individuals (one leading and one on each side) surrounding it during a therapeutic riding lesson, and must be able to accept multiple handlers during a typical program week. A good therapy is horse is priceless.

It is important to note that in the field of EAAT equines are viewed as partners. The horse is the ultimate teacher and/or therapist. EAAT recognizes and values the equine’s abilities of perception, cognition, memory and emotions – or sentience, which is being revealed more and more by new scientific research. EAAT views each equine as unique in personality with individual likes, dislikes and habits. Consequently, “listening” to equine communication is critical as it can affect their care, their rate of burnout, and the success of the human-equine interactions. In EAAT programs, viewing the equine as a partner invites opportunities for relationship building and skill building for all participants.

For a closer look at what UA Therapeutic Division is looking for in our therapeutic horses, please read “Therapy Horse Criteria.” If you have a horse you think might be a good therapeutic horse, please complete and submit the initial questionnaire about your horse. Or you may contact UA Equestrian Therapeutic Division Administrator Shelley Jones at or 205-341-2341.

How can I get involved?

Therapeutic Volunteers

Volunteers will be needed to help in many ways for the UA Equestrian/Therapeutic Division, which is laying the foundation now to launch a Spring 2018 pilot program. The biggest need is for “sidewalkers” for therapeutic riding lessons. Under the direction of nationally certified therapeutic riding instructors, sidewalkers are responsible for the safety of riders during the lessons. The Therapeutic Division will provide training for this, and all, volunteer jobs. If you’re interested in learning more about the Therapeutic Division’s volunteer opportunities, please contact Administrator Shelley Jones at 205-348-2341 or

YOU can make a difference by being part of the UA programs. Volunteers are the lifeblood of EAAT programs and for the UA Therapeutic Divison. You can volunteer to be a sidewalker who helps make sure riders are safe on the horse, a horse leader during lessons, helper in the barn or with horses, fundraiser, office helper or more. If you don’t have horse experience, don’t worry. We’ll teach you what you need to know to do your job.

If you’re interested in volunteering, please contact UA Therapeutic Division Administrator Shelley Jones at or 205-348-2341 for details.

You will be working with specially training professionals who teach lessons or conduct therapy sessions. They include:

  • Therapeutic riding instructors. Instructors for the UA program are certified by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.), the leading organization for safety and quality in EAAT programs. PATH Intl. certified Instructors bring knowledge of disabilities and horses to their jobs.
  • Specially certified therapists. In addition to being licensed by the state, our program therapists will have certifications required to demonstrate their knowledge of using the horse as a treatment strategy. For physical, occupational or speech language therapists, the primarily certifying organization is the American Hippotherapy Association.


dior-and-student therpeutic photosWe need you and your support for the Therapeutic Division!

Please join in by:

  • Making a financial donation to the equestrian programs. That is our greatest need. You can donate to the UA Equestrian Fund, which supports all programs including therapeutic, by choosing this link.
  • Volunteering! From the barn to the office, we need your help! Please contact Therapeutic Division Administrator Shelley Jones at or 205-348-2341.
  • Donating a horse, tack or other items. We’re counting on the generous support of our community to get the horses, tack, blankets, and other items needed. You can check out our therapy horse criteria by using this link. If you have an item to donate, please contact Therapeutic Division Administrator Shelley Jones at or 205-348-2341.