The Student News Site of Gannon University since 1947


The Student News Site of Gannon University since 1947


The Student News Site of Gannon University since 1947


Beyoncé is taking on country genre.
Beyoncé is going country
February 23, 2024

Horses are taking over professors jobs of teaching

While studying animals, one of the challenges students face is that they can’t talk.  Reading animal body language is the closest they come to understanding the animal, which is something Gannon’s Equine Facilitated Communication course utilizes.

The psychology elective class travels to the Tailwind Equestrian Center in Fairview once a week to study the interactions of horses.

The horses are owned by the Therapeutic Riding Equestrian Center. According to the class syllabus, horses are ideal for observation because they are prey animals that live in hierarchies similar to the ones humans live in.

The idea for this class came from classes using horses to study human interpersonal communication at Stanford University Medical School and the University of Arizona Medical Center.

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Danielle Clark, an adjunct lecturer in the psychology department and the course instructor, said she took the idea from these programs and designed her own version.

Upon presenting the idea to Gannon, Clark was granted support from the university in heading the class. She also received help from Stephanie Rickerson, an equine specialist.  Rickerson serves as a co-facilitator along with Clark.

The class is not specifically targeted at health science and medical students, as the other programs are.

Clark said the skills the course teaches are applicable to a heterogeneous group, since the communication discussed comes up in all fields.

Clark is a lifelong equestrian, but this is the first year this class has been offered. Her students cover emotional intellect, assertiveness, self-confidence, empathy, self-awareness and leadership in the classroom. They then study it hands-on at the site in Fairview.

“The horses are the real facilitators and instructors in this course,” said Clark.  “Their nature [observed by students] allows them to improve their own professional and personal communication skills.”

Jenna George, a senior physician assistant major, said the course has the advantage of minimal studying.

“There’s not a lot of work outside of class, but we’re definitely learning a lot,” George said.

Lauren Sherry, a senior occupational therapy major, said she’s already relating the topics to her own life.

“I’ve been applying [the communication discussions] to my lifestyle, and I’m always thinking of how it’s going to be relatable in real life,” she said. “I’m a server, so I think about how I can use this class at work, but I also think about how I’ll be able to use it as an occupational therapist.”

George said it’s interesting studying horses when they’re not pets.

“I’ve been around them my whole life, and this is a different look [at horses],” she said.

Clark stressed that the students need no prior experience to take the class.  Sherry said there’s a good mix of students with experience and students with horses in the class.

Sherry said she certainly would recommend the class to other people.

“The hands on portion is so cool,” Sherry said.  “It’s definitely worth it.”

While this is the first year Gannon is offering an equine facilitated communication class, Clark said it’s been going well.  She said she hopes to continue presenting the opportunity and offer the course each fall.



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