In the far corner of campus, Cheryl Scutt works at a desk covered with neatly-organized stacks of paperwork. These stapled pages include her carefully considered, thoroughly-researched plans to bring a therapeutic horseback riding center here to UA’s Equestrian complex.
“I hate to use the word magical, but a horse and human bond can do so many things,” said Scutt, administrator of the Therapeutic Division of the Alabama equestrian program.
The new center would add a new and potentially life-changing program to a UA equestrian program that is rapidly growing, and finding success in Intercollegiate Horse Show Association meets.
Organizations across the nation have started providing “equine-assisted activities and therapies,” an umbrella term for horse-based programs that serve individuals with disabilities or other special needs. Every therapy session is overseen by a nationally-certified instructor, but the exact type and frequency of the session depend on the needs of the rider. Therapeutic riding, a recreational riding program that teaches riding skills while helping improve core strength and balance, will be one of the most common practices. Some riders will also learn how to groom and care for a horse.
Before this year, Scutt worked at Saddle Up, another therapeutic riding center in Franklin, Tennessee. She relocated to Tuscaloosa in 2017 to help start a program at UA.
“Those of us who have been in it and especially the families and individuals who participate in these programs, they know it changes lives,” Scutt said. “We see it in so many ways.”
Her excitement about the program is shared by many students, including Abby Gorbett, a sophomore in the Honors College double-majoring in economics and mathematics and a member of the equestrian team. Gorbett is also a member of the Randall Research Scholars Program, and is excited about the potential for analysis through the partnership with the School of Social Work.
“I think athletics is often seen as something that’s self-serving, but being able to expand that in a way that benefits the community is really exciting, especially since we have members of the [equestrian] team that are going to be really involved in it,” she said.
Beyond the inherent potential of these therapy programs, however, several external relationships are poised to make this a particularly impactful addition to the community. UA has established partnerships with Adapted Athletics, Brewer-Porch Center for Children, Capstone Village and the RISE Center to expand the program. As a result, Tuscaloosa citizens of any age – from toddlers to the elderly – will take part in and experience the advantages of the program.
Though Scutt doesn’t know specifically who the UA program will be serving, she has worked with people recovering from strokes, cerebral palsy, brain injuries and other disorders in the past, but noted that the largest client group is children with autism.
To maximize the academic impact of this program, UA’s School of Social Work will be hiring a faculty position to study this new initiative and its impact on participants. Though countless personal case studies prove the benefits of equine-assisted activities and therapies, scholarly research on the topic is rare. Scutt believes a faculty member studying this at Alabama and a well-established research institution could produce groundbreaking findings.
“That impact,” she said, “will actually be global.”
Whether on the equestrian team or not, any interested student will have the opportunity to volunteer at the center. Scutt predicts the greatest need will be for sidewalkers, which stand on either side of the horse and help keep the rider safe. Yet, she stressed the need for a diversity of volunteers, including people with video production experience, fundraisers or office assistants.
Volunteer positions will not officially open until closer to the program’s launch, which is set for later in the year. Contact Cheryl Scutt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-348-2341 for more information about how to get involved.
With the support of community volunteers and the long history of success with equine-assisted activities and therapies, Scutt is excited to launch the program
“It just has so much potential to change lives,” she said. “The power of the horse is incredible, and to have a university like The University of Alabama committed to making a difference through a program like this is awesome. I’m excited to look back in about five years to see where we are right now – paperwork – to people’s lives being changed.”