Riding off with new skills

By Gail Crutchfield

Occupational therapy assistant students at an Alabama college gain new skills, lessons in creativity thanks to a local partnership. 

A group of students in Wallace State Community College’s occupational therapy assistant (OTA) program have left their mark on one of their community partners.


The students work with Hope Horses, which provides therapeutic riding lessons to children and adults with physical, emotional and cognitive needs and they have “brought a whole other avenue for us in the services that we provide,” said Kelsey Scott, executive director of Hope Horses.


Where the staff at Hope Horses traditionally focus on improving riding skills, the OTA students, who are completing clinical hours, bring insights to help students with physical disabilities or social or emotional issues.


“Each student that we’ve had…they’ve worked with us on lessons,” Scott added. “We’re very excited about the partnership we’ve gained with Wallace and we’re excited to see where it goes in the future.”


Making an impact


The OTA program began working with Hope Horses and a number of other community organizations last year after the COVID-19 pandemic prevented students from completing clinicals at more traditional sites.


“We really looked into the community to see where we could have an impact, where our students could really be coming into contact with patients that they would have seen in a traditional setting,” OTA Program Director Laura Smith said.


After brainstorming with Scott, Smith said they began thinking of ways they could work with or continue enhancing current elements at Hope Horses and creating new elements their clients could use.


“In our program we do something called activity analysis or task analysis, where you take a big component of an activity and break it down in minute parts that make it work,” Smith said. “That was an important piece for them because if they have a client that’s not meeting their therapeutic riding goals, maybe we can identify a way to modify that task and make it easier for them to complete that activity.


“I think it’s been good for us both because our students have gotten an amazing experience here and then I think we’ve been able to provide some awesome things for them, too,” Smith added.


“I have to say that all the OTA individuals we’ve had, every one of them have come in with dedication and passion,” Scott added. “Each one of them is very excited to become an OTA in the future. We love our students, and we want our students to succeed and in just the two semesters that we’ve had with this partnership, our students have reached a whole other level in success, so we greatly appreciate Wallace and Ms. Smith and each individual.”


Finding creative solutions


One of the new elements created for Hope Horses clients is the multipurpose room created by Skipper Freeman, who completed her clinicals at Hope Horses before graduating in December. The room allows instructors to teach ground lessons, identify riding equipment, horse anatomy and how to gauge a horse’s height. It can also serve during tours for visitors to see the type of work Hope Horses does for their clients.


One element of the room is a wall hanging that includes an image of a horse created using a variety of fabrics.


“A lot of the students here have sensory needs, so having something like this tactile display here where they can feel different textures is really helpful and appealing to them,” Freeman said.


The room also includes different riding tack and other equipment with labels made of Velcro that students can use in matching games to learn the different pieces of equipment, a line of paper handprints to learn how to measure a horse’s height, as well as other educational displays and materials.


Freeman said her experience at Hope Horses was beneficial as she prepared to enter the field.


“I think that this particular setting I’ve really gotten to have a little more observation of kids, younger people with diagnoses like autism,” Freeman said.


Another new piece created by the OTA students is a sensory wall for the sensory trail on the grounds of Hope Horses. “It focuses on fine motor coordination and dynamic weight shifting and functional reach,” Smith said.


Students using the wall ride up to it on a horse and will manipulate the objects on the wall, which include latches, switches, lock and key, spring style door stopper, a pulley and a clock.


“This is everyone’s favorite,” said OTA student Skyler Yeager.


Yeager said she’s learned a lot during her time there. She said before she could see how riding horses could help with balance, but the sensory trail that showed how it can be used for fine motor and cognitive skills was new to her.


“I love it here,” Yeager said. “Just seeing how you put therapy and horses together is amazing to me.”


There’s more to the story! Read the full article here.  

Gail Crutchfield

is the communications and marketing coordinator at Wallace State Community College in Alabama.