FARGO, North Dakota — North Dakota State University's Bison Strides held a weekend-long workshop that focused on equine mental health and learning. The workshop was overseen by individuals from the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH).
The four-day program was focused on an immersive learning experience. Those who attended the workshop were taught in the classroom, through hands-on activities, by acting out scenarios with the horses present, putting together their own programs and lessons to be used in a session, and more.
There were many North Dakota State University students present, but the four day learning event also pulled a variety of people from across the country, with attendees coming from California, New Jersey, Kansas, Texas and many other regions of the country.
The workshop gave attendees the opportunity to become PATH certified as equine specialists. Following the days of learning, those who attended will take a test to see if they had retained the necessary skills and information to become certified. Their test, along with referrals by equine and mental health specialists and documented volunteer hours will be submitted to PATH International where they will determine if they have met the needed qualifications.
There has been a rise in those looking to participate in forms of equine therapy in recent years, making NDSU’s Bison Stride’s event an important one.
“We have definitely seen, I think as everybody knows, an increase in mental health awareness and mental health needs of individuals in our community, throughout the country and throughout the world really,” said Erika Berg, an associate professor in the department of animal sciences at NDSU and the program director of the Bison Strides Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies Program. “I think COVID really brought that to the forefront and then added to those challenges that folks were having maybe to begin with. Partnering with horses is one that we can help to alleviate some of those things that are going on.”
With attendees spanning from across the country, each was able to bring their own unique perspective about equine therapy programs, many working with different populations such as sex-trafficked youth, veterans, youth and adults.
“These programs are really about developing relationships with those horses. The horses can tell you a lot. Their whole existence and survival depends on their ability to read the body language of everything in their environment, so that includes other horses, but also people. They are very in tune with what's truly going on with the person,” Berg said.