Inspiring growth through equine facilitated learning




Students at Stone Hill Elementary School were treated to sensory delights on November 23rd. The students, all in grades 3 through 5 and diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, visited Equi Evolution in Cumberland to have lunch with and learn a little about their horses.

Stone Hill art teacher Marisa Iacovone suggested the trip to her administration after taking a yoga class with a friend at the farm. During her visit, she learned about Equi Evolution’s services, which focus primarily on cultivating well-being in the presence of equine companions.

The trip fit perfectly into her curriculum for students, most of whom are nonverbal. The group had recently been working on nature projects, and Iacovone felt that a visit to the farm fit in quite well with that. She was also quite excited about the opportunity to provide a field trip experience to these students, as most or all of them had never been on a field trip due to the pandemic.

Iacovone credited her principal, Tricia Rotondo, for approving the trip and the Feinstein Foundation for generously providing the funding to make it possible.

Equi Evolution, founded by Samantha Thorpe, offers Equine-Facilitated Learning (EFL), which focuses on improving emotional health and general well-being. The cognitive-behavioral program does not include riding, but a number of other activities to help increase attention and promote an enhanced state of well-being.

“We’re going to really encourage these children to touch and engage with all their senses in a variety of items that we have on the farm,” Thorpe explained before the school visit. “So our goal is to get these kids involved with them and maybe learn a little bit about what it’s like to take care of horses.”

Thorpe offers individual and group sessions as well as online learning and training to those who wish to become EFL practitioners. The farm currently houses five horses and one donkey, all of whom are either rescued or in retirement/semi-retirement situations. Although it does not offer traditional equine therapy (which includes riding), Thorpe uses a network of neighboring farms and services when such an experience is requested.

At the core of Equi Evolution’s mission is to inspire growth through equine-facilitated learning, wellness coaching and education, with a solid foundation in compassionate horsemanship and connection to the natural world.

“They have a lot to teach us about how to be present in the moment,” Thorpe explained.

Various items were placed on a table in the horse barn, including several brushes and three types of food: hay, feed cubes, and carrots. The students, their carers and school teachers got busy with the items as well as feeding and brushing the horses and donkey.

The group got close to the horses, who were used to groups of visitors, and farm staff were available to explain the horses’ behaviors, preferences, and share how the farm cares for them.

Students, staff and caretakers also observed and experienced the paddock – several students enjoyed a rocking bench on the farm porch and all were able to spend time with the horses and donkey inside the barn.

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