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Working with Horses: Experiential Education for Patients with SCI and TBI

April 02, 2014


Hanging out with horses for the afternoon….the smells of the barn, the warmth of the horses, the no-rush, ‘horse time’ schedule…..that’s what three patients at Craig Hospital experienced last week during Working with Horses, an educational outing at SaddleUp! Foundation in Elizabeth, Colorado.

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As part of Craig Hospital’s standard patient education and training, patients have the opportunity to participate in outings like Working with Horses aimed at strengthening muscles of the heart and soul through equine-facilitated learning (EFL) activities. Working with Horses is experiential education at its best. Experiential learning assists people in finding out they have far greater capabilities than they ever thought possible, which often can take them to another level of skill and confidence building and prepared for success at home.

At Craig Hospital, we know a patient’s success following a spinal cord or traumatic brain injury requires not only a wealth of information and knowledge about the physical changes and new habits of self-care, but also a heightened sense of self and internal strengths. Many people have found physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing through equine-assisted activities and therapies.

Working with Horses is acollaborative project between Craig Hospital and SaddleUp! Foundation (SUF), a PATH Intl. accredited center in Elizabeth, CO. This equine-facilitated learning (EFL) program promotes confidence, awareness of safety, and clear communication necessary for post-discharge success through working with horses. More than thirty Craig Hospital patients have participated in Working with Horses since the program began.


Craig Hospital patients are encouraged to spend quality time with their horses, get their hands dirty, push beyond their level of comfort, and become aware of their horses’ body language and how they react. Patients are taught how horses communicate and about safety. They also learn how to approach, groom, and halter horses and assume leadership by directing their movements.


By interacting with horses through activities like grooming, leading and handling, patients can get a hands-on experience, feel the horse’s breath and heartbeat and prove to themselves that they can handle another powerful being. An obstacle course is set up and patients are taught to lead their horses safely through the course practicing clear communication.

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There are a number of equine-assisted activities and therapies (EAAT) spinal cord or traumatic brain injury patients can participate in, from therapeutic riding, outpatient therapies, carriage driving, and even interactive vaulting.

If you’re new to equine therapy or looking to try it out, you want to select a center that is professional and safe.

Here is some information to help you get started:

  • Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship. Int’l. (PATH, Int’l.) is a nonprofit organization that promotes Equine-Assisted Activities and Therapies (EAAT) for people with special needs.
  • Search for a certified center near you here. PATH Intl., makes it easy for you to find a certified center. PATH is a nonprofit organization that promotes equine-assisted activities and therapies for people with special needs. There are more than 850 member centers around the globe that have received special certification from PATH.
  • Learn the terminology. PATH also has a helpful glossary of terms if you’re new to the EATT world.
  • Ask your doctor if you are cleared for equine-assisted activities and therapies.