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A new partnership between two of Colorado State University’s (CSU) flagship academic programs will lead to a better understanding of the potential benefits of equine-assisted activity and therapy (EAAT).

The five-year research program, led by Wendy Wood, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, head of CSU’s Department of Occupational Therapy, is funded by a donation from the Carl and Caroline Swanson Foundation. The $468,000 gift will allow two graduate students, a PhD candidate and Wood to lead the research via a partnership with CSU’s Equine Sciences Program.

“This is a terrifically exciting opportunity for me,” Wood said. “I love being on the ground floor of projects, and the resources at Colorado State to launch this project are exemplary. It’s a synergy that’s meant to happen, and I’m excited to spearhead the program.”

The project will focus on EAAT, an area of study that appears to have tremendous promise, Wood said. Therapists long have known about the special connection between horses and riders, but there is limited documented research on the effectiveness of equine-assisted therapy.

While part of the project will be documenting existing research, Wood and her graduate students will do their own research at CSU’s Equine Center. A good deal of the work is expected to be completed at the proposed Temple Grandin Research Center at the Equine Center, which is expected to be completed in two years.

“When you look at the quality of our occupational therapy and equine science programs, if there’s ever going to be any great work done in this area, this is the place it will happen,” said Jerry Black, DVM, director of the Equine Sciences Program. “This is a growing area in the horse industry and in therapeutics, and there is tremendous student interest in this area. This project is a natural fit for CSU.”

Black said the project will focus on three primary areas: research, education, and outreach.

While there is anecdotal evidence and even some documented evidence of the benefits of EAAT, there is a great need for research-based evidence. Students—many of whom are looking at EAAT as a profession—will be on the front lines of the project, working with people dealing with traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, and other challenges.

“And one of the program’s great benefits is that we can offer these kinds of services to people right here in Northern Colorado, using those services as a basis for research and education,” Black said.

Wood will step down as head of the Department of Occupational Therapy to focus on the project. She had served as head for six years, overseeing significant growth in the program.

Rick and Lori Bucholz are trustees of the Carl and Caroline Swanson Foundation.

“Lori and I look for meaningful and sustainable support opportunities,” Rick Bucholz said. “The equine science program and occupational therapy marriage is one of the rare finds. We’re honored to be able to make a difference for CSU.”