This fall, the South Dakota State University equine teaching facility hosted horse handling and riding programs for American Indian students, veterans and current service members.
The programs met once a week for six weeks and participants experienced all aspects of horsemanship, including horse handling, safety, health and riding. The curriculum was put together by Jen Eide, equine teaching facility manager, and Dr. Carmen Paulson, an equine instructor in the animal science department.
“One of the goals of these programs is to provide a stress-free atmosphere where everyone can relax and enjoy the horses,” Paulson said. “Of all the topics covered in these programs, riding is the overwhelming favorite. This means the participants spend a lot of time in the saddle, both in the arena and out on the trail.”
Along with these core components, each program is individually tailored to fit specific needs. The American Indian student program is offered through the SDSU American Indian Student Center and is in its fifth year. It includes cultural components such as horse painting, in which the students paint the horses with historic symbols used by the Lakota people that are personally important to each of them.
“We want to be mindful of the traditional importance of the horse to the Lakota people,” said Morgan Catlett-Ausborn, academic and student success advisor for the SDSU American Indian Student Center.
Horses for Heroes, offered in partnership with the SDSU Veterans Affairs Office, targets the veteran population, which had been strictly for SDSU faculty, staff and students. However, the program was made available to Brookings-area veterans this year as well.
“Another SDSU staff member and I heard a presentation about the benefits of horse riding for veterans and decided we would like to get a program started on campus, so we worked with the animal science department to bring Horses for Heroes to fruition,” said Russ Chavez, SDSU’s director for veterans affairs. The program is in its third year at SDSU.
The Office of Veterans Affairs recently received a grant of more than $22,000 from the National VA Adaptive Sports Grant Program to support the Horses for Heroes program. Funds from the grant will be used to purchase a ramp, helmets and a paraplegic saddle, in addition to supporting costs associated with running the program.
“We are really excited about receiving this grant and the opportunities it will provide to veterans and current service members,” Chavez said.
“Everyone at the equine teaching facility enjoys providing groups the opportunity to spend time with the equine residents and our staff. We look forward to working with the campus community in fostering the therapeutic advantages of the horse-human connection,” Eide said.