Animal Assisted Training

Tuesday the 27th of February

Healing H’Arts Equestrian Center hosted an Animal Assisted Therapy course for students from Ithaca College. Kirsta Malone ran a demonstration with a willing client and two other associates beside her therapy horse, Rosebud. Kirsta ran the appointment mostly as she would of, with the only exception being, her stopping and giving the observing students an in-depth understanding of why she is doing what she is doing.   

The small group of Ithaca students were from all around; a good portion came from New York State, while others hailed from places like Massachusetts and Connecticut. They were supervised by Assistant Professor Anna Grasso of Ithaca College’s Department of Occupational Therapy. Assistant Professor Grasso was herself a 2009 graduate from Ithaca College where she came back to help educate others in her chosen field. She offered that “although OT’s don’t usually use animals, they can be a good tool” to understand. Kirsta at one point allowed Assistant Professor Grasso to act as a side-walker holding the clients foot in the stirrups.

Before this course Assistant Professor Grasso and her students (graduate students), gained assisted animal experience working with Ithaca’s Guiding Eyes for the blind program. Most of the students were new to the idea of working with horses, especially in the capacity of occupational therapy.

One student, Zihui Adams had four years of Summer camp riding and had volunteered at a riding therapy place while in high school. This proved not all the students were new comers to the idea of using horses in occupational therapy. Zihui and the other students watched as Kirsta directed the activity and her horse leader, Maddie Clark led Rosebud, the butterscotch coloured horse with the client atop. The day’s session ran for three hours, however the course itself is a ten week look at what it’s like out in the field with animals and clients, as well as the good that can be done putting the two together.

Assistant Professor Grasso said, “in person, hearing from an expert like Kirsta is important for the students,” and expressed the hopes that the students will learn the benefits of using animals in occupational therapy. For clients, it is “functionally… useful for learning routine and responsibility, which will translate into other life activities,” said Assistant Professor Grasso.

Talking to the students toward the end of their session, they seemed to enjoy the “hands on” approach and they agreed that they would recommend this course to future Ithaca students in the Occupational Therapy program. When finishing up with his appointment, the client, after feeding Rosebud a carrot, told the student, “goodbye, it was nice to meet you all.”   


Written by Greg T. Miraglia
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