Hong Kong officials have visited secondary students and teachers being quarantined in Beijing.
By LARRY KLINE, Independent Record - 06/28/09
The minor, the only undergraduate course of study like it in the country, teaches students the basics of working with dogs and horses in service and therapeutic applications.
"I just glanced at the Carroll's Web site, and it's just perfect," said Welch, now a sophomore. "Every day, I'm excited to go to school. I just love it. It's an amazing program."
Welch's dream is to open a physical-therapy business in Helena, serving injured veterans at Fort Harrison.
The program took a big leap forward this week with the official unveiling of Carroll's new equine center out in the valley, about a 10-minute drive from the college. The facility, owned by psychology professor Anne Perkins, who founded and directs the program, is being leased by the college.
Students taking the equine track in the human-animal bonding (or HAB) program will study at the facility, learning the basics - caring for horses, taking field lessons on human-horse connections and, most importantly, learning how to keep physically disabled riders and those with mental illness safe around the large animals.
"Our curriculum is about horses helping people," Perkins said.
Horses have been used for years in physical therapy, because they prompt riders to use core muscles for balance.
"Horses just make you balance, and it's very different that being in a wheelchair," she said.
A newer discipline, in some respects, is equine-facilitated mental health care. The animals are used in counseling and psychotherapy, and now some firms are offering horses for corporate team-building exercises.
While those uses have become more mainstream in the past decade, they reflect what people have known for millennia - a horse can calm a person, and a connection with such a big, strong animal can have a tremendous effect on a human's mindset.
"You have a very large animal that respects you - and that can be very powerful," Perkins said.
"It's as old as the hills," she added, "but it's becoming more formalized."
The HAB program's equine component has been in place for a year, but the college had been renting facilities for field work. Perkins saw the property at the base of the Scratchgravel Hills go up for sale this spring and knew it would work perfectly for the college. It features a 4,000-square-foot indoor arena and a larger outdoor arena for the program's use. The land also holds separate facilities for horses owned by Perkins, who is an endurance rider.
Eventually, she wants to begin conducting research on the bond between horses and people, and the efficacy of various treatment methods.
And she's also working to grow the program into a major at the college, which would be another first for undergraduate study in the country. The response in the last few years has grown, with 23 students now enrolled in the minor. A total of 56 Carroll students took some of the program's courses last year.
Many of the students now taking courses are preparing for graduate work, planning to become veterinarians, psychologists, occupational therapists or physical therapists. A few have used the courses to help work toward self-crafted interdisciplinary degrees.
The canine unit focuses on teaching students how to train service dogs. Pupils can be paired with a dog, working to train them as much as possible for their life's work. The dogs are then sent to a certified school to finish their education.
Equine-track students won't be assigned to specific animals. They'll work with horses at the facility, "They'll learn how to safely and ethically work with horses and people," Perkins said.
Students first take classroom courses to give them the basics before moving into the field to study how to apply hippotherapy - derived from the Greek "hippos," meaning horse - to different situations and people in need.
The school now owns two Icelandic horses and plans to lease at least three other animals.
The Icelandics are renowned in therapeutic circles, said Leif Hallberg, the instructor who teaches Carroll's equine classes.
"They're becoming more and more popular ... they are the perfect therapeutic riding horse," she said.
The animals are small, but can carry heavy loads. They also have pure bloodlines and are free of diseases and parasites.
McKenzie Homan and Sara Sylte, two sophomores in pre-veterinary programs, said they joined the minor as a way to better understand the psychological and emotional connections between animals and people.
More and more people need veterinarians who can understand those connections, especially those who are grieving the loss of a pet, Homan said.
"This is a good chance to start working with animals at the undergraduate level," Sylte added.
Perkins and Hallberg noted the program's students have become invested in their work. They've been at the facility, building fence under the hot sun. Donations of fencing materials and earthwork are being accepted.
"We have students who truly love animals, and they're developing a wonderful community of leaders that will be providing services to this community and the world," Perkins said.
Reporter Larry Kline: 447-4075 or larry.kline -is-at- helenair -dot- com