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Arizona State University

Breaking through - University's horseback riding program therapeutic to students

It's a program designed for more than just horsing around - for many of the participants it's a chance at a better life.

The Hunkapi Program is ASU's little known-therapeutic horseback riding program. Now in its sixth year of operation, it has 20 horses and serves 200 students each week, dealing with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism and children emotionally at risk or with physical needs.

The program, funded primarily through grants and private donations, is part of ASU's Alternative Intervention Research Clinic (AIRC) in the Exercise Science Department on Main Campus. Physically, it is based out of Roper's Arena in Tempe, with four horses taken daily to area schools as part of an outreach program.

Debbie Crews, AIRC's director, started Hunkapi after extensive research on intervention programs with children with various psychological disorders.

"What we found was the most consistent intervention among all the different kinds of children was horseback therapy, " Crews says.

Crews says the basic eight-week therapy program is simple. The children are taught to interact with the horse - including lessons in safety and grooming, preparing it for a ride and eventually riding the horse. Beyond the equestrian skills, they are learning to control the horse, the situation and ultimately themselves.

"The horses have a different effect on every kid, " says Terra Schaad, director of therapeutic riding for Hunkapi. "If it's an at-risk child, the program will help with trust, love and communication skills. For ADHD, it helps with focus. For people with depression, unconditional love comes in. It's different for every kid, really whatever they need. "

Teaching the lessons are four certified equine psychotherapists and one physical therapist. Schaad says that along with the riding, the instructors are able to talk with the children and get them to discuss the issues they are dealing with.

"The horses are a way to knock down the barriers most kids have when they go into a therapy session, whether it is physical or emotional, " Schaad says. "They really don't feel like they are in therapy at all. "

Crews says in many ways the horse is the perfect kind of animal for therapy, as horses are generally able to interpret a person's emotional state.

"The horse acts as a mirror for the child, " Crews says. "Whatever the child is feeling, the horse will mimic. If the child is angry or scared, the horse won't move. But when the child is comfortable and confident, the horse will do anything the child wants. "

The list of success stories for Hunkapi is long. One child with autism was able to speak for the first time after completing the program. Another child with severe trust and abandonment issues was able to bond with her horse and tell it she loves it. Still another child with a severe drooling problem was able to relate to how the horses held the bit in their mouths and learned to control his own mouth.

"When you see a kid who has never talked start talking, and you see a kid who has never loved start to love, it is more rewarding than any other accomplishment you could ever have, " Schaad says. "Being a part of that is very special. "

For information, call Schaad at (480) 965-3395 or e-mail

(terra. schaad@asu.edu ).

Campbell, with Media Relations and Public Information, can be reached at (480) 965-7209 or (garycamp@asu.edu ).

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United States Universities, Colleges and Schools



For information, call Schaad at:

(480) 965-3395 or

e-mail terra. schaad@asu.edu




Mailing Address:

International Programs Office

Arizona State University

PO Box 874311

Tempe, AZ 85287-4311


Physical Address:

International Programs Office

Arizona State University

951 South Mill Suite 198
Tempe, AZ 85287-4311


Phone Number:

(480) 965-5965

Fax Number:

(480) 965-4026


Email IPO@asu.edu