Mind, Body and Spirit: NDSU’s Bison Strides Program Transforms Participants
Though riding a horse can be an intimidating experience, especially for a child who is frightened and struggling with physical challenges, a profound connection takes place when you partner horses and humans, says Erika Berg, NDSU Department of Animal Sciences associate professor and director of NDSU’s Bison Strides program.
Bison Strides is an equine-assisted services program offered through the NDSU Department of Animal Sciences. The program teaches horsemanship skills to people with physical, cognitive, emotional, behavioral or mental health challenges through weekly adapted therapeutic riding lessons.
In addition, undergraduate students in the Equine Assisted Services minor at NDSU engage in high impact experiential teaching, learning and service opportunities through their involvement in the program.
Bison Strides is accredited by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.) and is currently the only PATH Intl. Premier Accredited Center in the state of North Dakota. Just 31% of the over 880 PATH Intl. centers worldwide have earned this status. In addition, NDSU is one of only 12 PATH Intl. Higher Education Members in the U.S.
Currently, Bison Strides offers four different program options throughout the year:
- Adapted Therapeutic Horsemanship – Designed to teach participants horsemanship skills, this program’s documented benefits include improved social skills, balance and posture, as well as greater self-confidence and increased self-awareness.
- Equine Assisted Learning – Through equine assisted activities this program promotes self-awareness and problem-solving skills, in addition to providing equine interaction opportunities that teach honesty, respect, empathy and communication.
- Military and Veterans Horsemanship – Open to veterans and active-duty military personnel, this program is primarily ground-based and focuses on building a relationship with the horse. These interactions provide an opportunity for self-reflection, emotional awareness and stress tolerance. The program is supported by donors and grants so there is no fee to service members for this program.
- Physical and Occupational Therapy – In partnership with Bison Strides, Beyond Boundaries Therapy Services offers physical and occupational therapy using equine movement to engage the participant’s sensory, neuromotor and cognitive systems to achieve functional outcomes.
“These programs enable our participants to experience improved balance and gait symmetry, practice patience and mutual respect, gain greater social functioning and language development, increase confidence and self-esteem, build relationship and communication skills, as well as find peace and calm in their body and mind,” says Berg. “But we couldn’t do it without our extraordinary therapy horses and their owners, and the dozens of community volunteers, who come each week to support our participants.”
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