Published on July 12, 2017 by Sarah Waller  
Special equestrians

The partnership between the School of Health Professions’ Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders and Special Equestrians, a hippotherapy barn in Indian Springs, Alabama, provides a new dimension to the role of team-based health care. “We are not the only therapist in this situation,” said Charlotte Rogers, a Master of Science in Speech Language Pathology student from Mobile, Alabama. “The horses are providing therapy, too.”

During the spring semester, communication sciences and disorders faculty and students worked with Special Equestrians to develop, build and install a new sensory trail on the barn’s property. While this project began as an assignment for first-year graduate students, it quickly became a service project that included students throughout the department.

At the sensory trail’s grand opening, both graduate and undergraduate students worked together to demonstrate the trail’s individual stations and train the organization’s volunteers in how they should be used. They also had the opportunity to interact with the children in which this project serves, and see firsthand the joy the trail brings to the children and their families.

“I love seeing our graduate and undergraduate students working side by side to serve these children,” said Laura Sheedy Promer, instructor and director of undergraduate studies. “Our younger students are learning so much as our graduate students show them how a topic they learned during their freshman year is being applied to what they are doing as a first-year graduate student.”

Students developed each station to address communication, motor and sensory skills. Although they studied and developed these stations for months—compiling their knowledge into a training manual for Special Equestrians—the practical experience of actually walking a child and horse through the trail proved to be an additional learning opportunity.

“You can really tell there is so much learning going on because they are having to think on their feet,” Promer said. “They don’t know who is coming to their station next. It may be a rider who is visually impaired, and they’ll have to think, ‘How can I change this project to make it work for him?’” 

“I’m learning you have to feel out the situation, and I think with each rider that came through, I felt a little more comfortable,” said Katherine Devine, a Master of Science in Speech Language Pathology student from Bowling Green, Kentucky. “It was really cool to see how different riders were able to utilize the stations in different ways. But regardless of how they were utilizing the station, it brought all of them joy. That was the common denominator.”

Samford’s partnership with Special Equestrians is a testament to the university’s commitment to helping others by meeting diverse needs and leading societal improvement. While this project started as a class assignment, the students went above and beyond in their service to others, living out the School of Health Professions’ mission of promoting health, wellness and quality of life through excellence in professionalism, scholarship and service.

Sarah Waller is coordinator of marketing and communication for the College of Health Sciences.
Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.