By Olivia Norton ’16
Dr. Martha Vogelsang and her strong commitment to student success took an informal request for help at a local therapeutic riding center and turned it into an opportunity for Texas A&M students to impact their community and take away values of their own.
Vogelsang is a senior lecturer of equine science in the Department of Animal Science. When a student stood up in Vogelsang’s Equestrian Technology class to announce that the Gallop Foundation, a therapeutic riding center located in College Station, was in need of new volunteers, Vogelsang saw an opportunity.
“When a student wants to get involved with horses on campus, they can help with a research project or other activities like this as an independent study,” Vogelsang said. “I thought involving our students at an equine facility like the Gallop Foundation would be a formal way for motivated students to earn credit for something they felt passionate about.”
In January 2011, the decision was made to give a one-hour credit, ANSC 485 Special Topics in Equine-Assisted Therapy, to volunteers and the response from students was more than encouraging. The initial informative meeting drew more than 100 interested students for 25 available spots.
Students now provide help as side walkers, with horse care, and support for clients three hours a week. Students also witness first-hand how equine therapy can affect individuals with almost any range of cognitive, emotional and physical disability. The gentle, rhythmical gait of a horse has been shown to increase flexibility, muscle strength and balance among clients, while the bond formed between a horse and rider is used as another support system to instill confidence and increase self-esteem among participants.
Coincidentally, Vogelsang was selected to participate in the 2013-2014 Service-Learning Faculty Fellows, a group of eight Texas A&M faculty members from campus who have an affinity for instructing students by way of a service-oriented curriculum.
“This year-long program brought together faculty from medicine, engineering, kinesiology to, in my case, animal science to integrate service-learning into their instruction. I decided to use my time in the fellows group to improve upon the therapeutic riding volunteer program already in place,” Vogelsang said.
With a year of monthly meetings among professionals sharing her vision and new funding, Vogelsang revisited the format of the volunteer-based class.
“I decided to take advantage of the techniques and resources I gathered from the fellows group and expand the equine-assisted therapy class by utilizing funding to include a field trip to Ride On Center for Kids in Georgetown and also bring in a guest speaker from Equest, one of the oldest therapeutic riding centers in the state,” Vogelsang said.
Today, students continue to explore equine-based therapy at the Gallop Foundation, but they can also participate in the Courtney Grimshaw Fowler Equine Therapeutic Program at Freeman Arena. Courtney Cares, as the program is known, was established in memory of Courtney Anne Grimshaw Fowler, a graduate of the Department of Animal Science, in order to provide equine-assisted therapy to a range of clients including children and veterans. Students visit one of the two facilities weekly and serve as side walkers for clients of the program or are trained to assist in multiple ways.
“An overarching goal is to let students learn through service with the result being beneficial to both Texas A&M students and those who need these therapies. Whether the student is interested in pursuing some form of occupational therapy, possibly equine related, or whether the student is seeking the rewarding experience of helping others, everyone gains valuable experiences through this program,” Vogelsang said.
The independent study program is open to all Texas A&M students. Vogelsang said students from many majors and interests have participated, including kinesiology majors interested in therapy as an occupation as well as students who want a reason to be around horses and give back to their community.
Olivia Norton ’16 is a junior animal science major from Texarkana, Texas.
For more information regarding news from the Department of Animal Science, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Texas A&M University, please contact Courtney Coufal at firstname.lastname@example.org or (979) 845-1542.