Saddling Up: How OU students are using horses to help people with disabilities

Just 80 miles south of Athens, a veteran who suffered a stroke was riding horseback, led by Ohio University students. His wife, watching her husband ride from afar, hadn’t heard his voice in two years.

He had been riding at OU Southern’s horse park for several sessions, and he began to burst into song.

“Home, home on the range,” he belted. “Where the deer and the antelope play.”

Everyone stared in disbelief as a man who hadn’t spoken a word in years began to sing.

That is just one of the miracles that happens every day at OU Southern’s horse park, said Kelly Hall, the director of the equine studies program.

OU Southern Campus’s equine program is one of five accredited international schools to certify instructors in therapeutic riding, attracting dozens of students to enroll in hopes of pursuing a career that could change someone’s life.

A program run by students


Only two full-time faculty members staff the program, leaving the rest of the work up to students and volunteers to keep the rates for riding low. OU Southern charges $45 for a private community riding lesson and $35 for private therapeutic lessons.

horses
Photo by Emily Gayton

OU’s Southern Campus offers an equine studies program that certifies instructors in therapeutic riding. Dozens of students have enrolled in the program.

“It takes a lot,” Hall said. “If you have one person in a wheelchair, you’re going to have to have two side walkers — one on each side — and somebody to lead the horse. You’re going to have to have an instructor. … It takes a lot of volunteers to make this program happen.”

To earn their associate degrees, students are required to participate in 25 hours of instruction with a minimum of two riders with disabilities at a time.

“The community therapeutic horsemanship center serves the purpose of allowing our students to earn their hours, but it also serves the tri-state community for people with challenges,” Hall said.

Unlike many other equine programs, OU Southern has its own horse park and barns for convenience of completing lab hours and maintaining control over curriculum, attracting students from places as far as Hawaii to participate in the therapeutic riding program.

Students also teach, care for the horses and assume other responsibilities alongside volunteers and part-time employees.

“I’ve always liked helping people, and I love horses,” Julia Glebins, a first-year student, said. “I’ve been obsessed with them my entire life. It just seemed like a natural fit.”

A horse’s strength


Horseback riding provides many benefits for people with physical disabilities. Riding develops a sense of coordination and balance and strengthens the same muscles used to walk, which can be especially useful for someone in a wheelchair.

“It benefits them to learn a different or better way of living,”Tabatha McKinney, who works at STAR Community Justice Center

“We have a couple riders who are paraplegic and in a wheelchair,” Hall said. “By putting someone on a horse and the horse walks for them, they’re exercising those muscles to help them hopefully gain some mobility.”

Glebins said she was touched when she was serving as a volunteer last year and saw significant progress in a boy she was assisting.

“One of our participants started out in a wheelchair and couldn’t hardly walk, and now he’s up walking on his own and doesn’t need very much assistance,” she said. “He rides on his own, too. … It’s pretty incredible.”

The warmth of a horse


The benefits of therapeutic riding go beyond what can be seen on the surface. Hall said emotional and mental therapy is a lot of what the program tries to provide through its lessons.

The park works with agencies for weekly lessons and has served foster care industries, regional mental health industries and more.

“It benefits them to learn a different or better way of living,” said Tabatha McKinney, who works at STAR Community Justice Center. STAR serves as an alternative to prison with the intent of rehabilitating nonviolent felony offenders and frequently works with the horse park.

horses
Photo by Emily Gayton

Students teach and care for the horses, among other responsibilities. The program attracts students from places as far away as Hawaii.

OU Southern is partnered with Safe Harbor, a domestic violence shelter in northern Kentucky. The two secured a grant to bring children to the park weekly for riding lessons.

“It’s fun,” Jacob Bowman, 11, said. “I learn stuff about horses. They’re fun to play with and cute. I like it here.”

Hall said OU Southern tailors programs to specific needs. In the case of Safe Harbor, a main goal is teaching kids to positively identify and cope with emotions.

“I love riding (the horses),” Keagan Thornton, 8, said. “I’ve learned about leading and riding and about my emotions.”

Horses have unique personalities just like humans, Hall said. People might be drawn to a particular horse and learn a lot about their feelings from interacting with the animal.

“The horses show what we don’t want to face,” McKinney said. “The horses can sense your emotions. … It gives us a therapeutic moment to talk about those emotions instead of stuffing it.”

Expansion of the program


Since OU Southern’s equine program began offering online courses in spring 2016, adjunct professor Mark Abell said he has seen an increase in enrollment. He said this semester he has his largest class size of 26 people in introduction to equine studies, with students from the Athens campus and high school students enrolling.

“It’s really caught on,” he said. “It’s interesting because in the online program, you have a wide variety of experiences. … It’s a really good way for us to go beyond just the campus.”

Online classes, which are heavy on economics and technology, focus on the commercial side of the horse industry, Hall said. She said the staff rewrote the entire curriculum to accommodate online courses.

“Technology is really important in the horse world, too,” she said. “The horse industry is very large. There’s about a million full-time jobs in the horse industry.”

Many students are interested in starting nonprofits related to horses, so Hall said the program created online courses on equine nonprofit development and management.

Hall said they are also adding a degree to the eCampus. There will be a soft launch in January and a full launch in fall 2018.

“That’s a big deal for us,” Abell said. “I think it’s going to get bigger and bigger and bigger.”

Abell said he was excited for the program to grow and continue to flourish because of all the good he sees come out of it every day.

“It’s an absolutely wonderful program,” Abell said. “Miracles come from it. … When you watch their expressions and the light bulb comes on, and they see all of that because of the interaction with the horses, it’s really powerful.”

Originally published for The Post on Sept. 28, 2017. Appeared in print Sept. 28, 2017.

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More than $200,000 netted in latest eastern parcel lease to oil and gas companies

The Bureau of Land Management released another 142 acres of Wayne National Forest on Sept. 22 for private industries to lease with the intent of extracting oil and gas. The sale, combined with other parcels sold in Louisiana, netted the BLM more than $200,000, according to a press release.

The BLM started selling parcels of the Wayne National Forest, Ohio’s only national forest, starting in September 2016. BLM spokesperson Davida Carnahan said in February that they intend to release parcels quarterly. The BLM also sold parcels in Louisiana.

Some citizens worry the action could lead to hydraulic fracturing, a process in which chemicals are injected into the ground to fracture the earth and release natural gas. Since the BLM only leases the parcels to oil and gas companies, activists have the opportunity to submit proposals and protests through a formal process prior to the sale.

10 protests were made regarding the sales in the two states, but none of the six parcels were removed.

Previous sales of the Wayne National Forest have yielded more than $7 million. The oil and gas companies that purchase the land are required to pay the federal government a royalty equal to 12.5 percent the value of production.

Ohio receives 25 percent minimum of sales within the state.

@AbbeyMarshall

am877915@ohio.edu

Originally published for The Post on Sept. 28, 2017.

Where is Tumbles, the two-legged dog, now?

Tumbles playing outside near his dog wheelchair. Due to being born with just two legs, OU’s Innovation Center made a dog wheelchair for Tumbles nearly two years ago. (Photo by Abbey Marshall)

A local two-legged puppy tumbled his way into the hearts of millions two years ago after garnering international media attention. Nearly two years later, he no longer uses the wheels the Ohio University Innovation Center 3-D-printed for him.

Tumbles was born without his front legs. Because of his disability, he would get pushed out of the way by his brother and sister when he was trying to nurse, forcing his owner to give him up to a foster home.

Karen Pilcher, who was on the board of the Athens Friends of Shelter Dogs, has been by Tumbles’ side since he was four weeks old. She officially adopted him last December. He’ll be two years old soon.

Pilcher and some other members of the Athens Friends of Shelter Dogs created a Facebook page for Tumbles in November 2015, when he was six weeks old. An engineer saw the page and designed wheels to help Tumbles’ mobility. He brought his idea to the OU Innovation Center, who agreed to create the wheels using 3-D printing.

“OU was wonderful,” Pilcher said. “They only charged us for the materials for the wheels, not the labor. It only cost around $250, whereas other wheels are much more expensive.”

A video of Tumbles wheeling around began circulating the internet; before Pilcher knew it, she was the mother to a viral star.

“He was everywhere,” she said. “We got messages on Facebook and friends from all over the world. He was in the papers in England, Brazil, Germany, Ireland.”

Even though the wheels are adjustable and will last his lifetime, Pilcher said Tumbles doesn’t like to use them very much anymore. They inhibit his mobility, she said, and he much prefers hopping and pushing himself on his stomach. In the past few months, he also began walking on his back paws.

“He doesn’t know any different,” she said. “The thing that makes him great is his personality. There’s a lot of two legged dogs, and they all have great personality. They’re fighters.”

Tumbles now lives with three other dogs and 19 cats.

“They all get along great,” Pilcher said. “He’s just so happy about everything.”

@AbbeyMarshall

am877915@ohio.edu 

Originally published for The Post on Sept. 24, 2017.

Gubernatorial candidate to return to OU in October

State Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Youngstown, will return to his alma mater, Ohio University, in October as part of his campaign to reach out to college campuses.

Schiavoni, a 2001 OU alumnus, began his campaign nearly a year ago and has spent every day in a different part of Ohio. He said his sights are set on college campuses in the upcoming months. He said he is planning on going to Ohio State University, Kenyon University, Oberlin College and — of course — his alma mater.

“Young people are the key to this next election,” he said. “As I travel the state, young people want to be involved in this next election because they know it’s important.”

Schiavoni said he will participate in OU’s homecoming parade Oct. 7, but, as of press time, he does not know if he will hold any other events.

Although he will be walking with them in the parade, OU College Democrats has not yet endorsed a candidate and will not until the spring primary.

“We’re really excited about that,” OU College Democrats President Ashley Fishwick said of Schiavoni coming to Athens. “It’s good to see a candidate who’s really engaged with students.”

At 37 years old, Schiavoni is the youngest governor candidate. He said this gives him an advantage when it comes to garnering college students’ votes.

“I understand the concerns (of students),” he said. “I understand we need to give young people incentives to stay and build their lives here.”

Schiavoni said he will establish fellowships to get young people involved in his campaign.

Schiavoni said a main focus of his campaign is advocating for the alleviation of student debt. He will roll out a bill next week to assist in financing homes for first-time buyers with student debt.

“We want young people to stay and prosper in Ohio,” he said. “I’m somebody that is concerned about your future and keeping you in the state. I know we have to have incentive programs.”

Sam Miller, former president of the College Democrats, said she is interested in several candidates, and Schiavoni is one of them.

“Oftentimes in politics, we see older people pretending to understand the issues of young people,” she said. “He was a Bobcat. He wasn’t in college that long ago. He understands that college is really expensive and is trying to fix that. His youth really attracts college students to him.”

@AbbeyMarshall

am877915@ohio.edu

Originally published for The Post on Sept. 17, 2017.

How a disability affected these Athens residents’ day-to-day lives

The Athens County Community Singers open for the annual Disabilities Speaks event on September 14, 2017. The Athens County Community Singers are a musical group open to people of all abilities. (Abbey Marshall)

Ohio University’s basketball coach Saul Phillips woke up this morning just like any other day, only when he opened his eyes, he couldn’t see.

Phillips spent the day with a disability like seven other Athens residents as part of the annual “Disabilities Speak” program hosted by the Athens County Commission on Disabilities.

“I was really struck by how my job and day-to-day hinges directly on my sight,” Phillips, who wore opaque sunglasses that obstructed his vision, said. “When it’s gone, you notice in a hurry.”

The disabilities ranged from being tethered to a walker to limb paralysis.

“We are all temporarily abled,” said Athens Mayor Steve Patterson, who served as the former chair of the Athens County Commission on Disabilities. “One day we will all have a disability. That’s just the frailness of the human body.”

All eight of the volunteers gathered in the Athens Community Center on Thursday at 6 p.m. to share their experience with the community. The program began with a performance from the Athens County Community Singers, a mixed choir of about 36 singers of all abilities.

Following the performance, Barbara Conover, consultant for the American Disabilities Act and the mother of disabled children, delivered a keynote speech on universal design. Universal design is the concept of allowing accessibility for people of all abilities, such as ramps, door levers instead of knobs and wider hallways.

“Everyone ought to be able to use everything available to everyone,” she said.

Although the city has made great strides, including a lift to the mayoral office and an ADA accessible path in Sells Park, Patterson said the city has a long way to go.

Athens City Schools Superintendent Tom Gibbs, who had a paralyzed arm for the day, said the experience was eye-opening not only to physical disabilities, but all disabilities students might be facing.

“A physical example was good but … what we confront more everyday are things like mental, cognitive or social disabilities,” he said. “I used this opportunity to talk to our staff about how to address those disabilities as well.”

Patterson wrapped up the event by presenting the annual Athena award to Noriko Kantake, the president of Appalachian Family Center for Autism and Disability Resources and Education. Kantake has an autistic son and recognized the need for increased accessibility in Athens.

“To be here today … this really makes my heart soar,” Patterson said. “I’m hoping everyone walks away today with more sensitivities to those around them and more sensitivities to accessibility and inclusion.”

@AbbeyMarshall

am877915@ohio.edu

People are using Wayne National Forest as a dumpsite

Dover Township assist the Wayne National Forest, Athens City-County Health Department, and Athens Sheriff’s Office in cleaning up an illegal dumpsite along Big Bailey Run. Special thanks to the SEPTA Correctional Facility for providing assistance in picking up the trash. (Image Courtesy of Wayne National Forest)

Some people are using Wayne National Forest as a dumping ground for anything from couches to kitchen appliances.

Illegal dumping is one of the issues facing the only national forest in Ohio, the forest’s Public Affairs Officer Gary Chancey said. The most common items include scrap appliances, construction debris, tires, furniture and more.

“A lot of (the bigger items) that are dumped are things … you’d have to pay to throw away,” Erin Sykes, Zero Waste’s program director, said. “Whether it’s a learned habit or whether it’s trying to avoid paying for throwing away their trash, those are two big contributors. It’s a lot of wide open land, so it’s hard to monitor.”

Rural Action, a local environmental conservation group, has identified 124 dumpsites on public and private lands in Athens, Hocking, Perry and Morgan counties. Wayne National Forest has partnered with Rural Action’s Zero Waste Initiative to conduct cleanups of the forest. The next cleanup event is Sept. 30.

“Litter damages ecosystems and animal habitats,” Chancey said. “Because illegal dumps can pose a health and safety hazard, it is critical to clean up litter and illegal dumps as soon as possible.”

Since the partnership between Rural Action and Wayne National Forest began in 2014, 21 dumpsite cleanups have been conducted, and more than 200 volunteers have logged about 600 hours.

“The agreement expands the Wayne National Forest and Rural Action-Zero Waste Programs ongoing efforts by sharing resources to protect and enhance watershed areas threatened by illegal dumping in and adjacent to the Wayne National Forest,” Chancey said.

The partnership with Rural Action also helped to secure a $12,000 grant from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency for a trailer stocked with litter and dumpsite cleanup equipment.

Everyone, not just those who spent time in the Wayne, should care, Chancey said.

“Neglect and apathy take root in a neighborhood,” he said. “By volunteering their time to clean up illegal dumpsites, many students have taken action to help make a difference in their community, which includes Wayne National Forest.”

@AbbeyMarshall

am877915@ohio.edu

Originally published for The Post on Sept. 14, 2017.

How the proposed Free Speech Act could affect OU

Sasha Estrella-Jones gives a passionate speech at a protest against President Trump’s executive order on immigration in front of the Athens County Courthouse on Feb.1 (Photo by Matt Starkey)

Some state representatives are arguing that Ohio University — or any public college in Ohio — shall make no law prohibiting the freedom of speech.

State Reps. Andrew Brenner (R-Powell) and Wesley Goodman (R-Cardington) are introducing a bill to the Ohio House of Representatives reaffirming First Amendment rights on college campuses.

“We need to defend (free speech) everywhere, but especially in college campuses where you’re supposed to have a free exchange of ideas,” Brenner said. “We have some universities enact some policies that have led to some alternative ideas being squashed, and I don’t want to see that happen.”

Brenner said the Free Speech Act aims to ensure public universities in Ohio are compliant with the First Amendment. That includes an elimination of “free speech zones” that are present on many college campuses. The entire campus should be a free speech zone, Brenner said.

Under the Free Speech Act, policies such as OU’s recent ban on protesting in university buildingswould not be able to exist.

“Public universities that are getting large amounts of taxpayers’ money, their policies and conducts of laws should be consistent with the First Amendment,” Goodman said.

Goodman emphasized the need for an exchange of ideas at the collegiate level.

“We completely reject that notion that speech or expression is harmful,” he said. “The answer to speech we dislike or disagree with … is to meet it with more speech of what you believe and find to be true.”

OU has faced the debate around free speech on campus in recent years. Last fall, the university hosted a campus conversation addressing the drawing of a hanged figure on the graffiti wall, which is at the intersection of Mulberry Street and Richland Avenue. The event sparked a debate about what constitutes hate speech and free speech.

“We can all agree that hateful rhetoric has no place on this campus,” David Parkhill, the former OU College Republicans president, said last October during the panel discussion. “But who is to say what is hateful rhetoric? We cannot allow the government and we cannot allow our institutions to start regulating our speech. Once it starts, where does it stop?”

The line between hate speech and First Amendment freedoms is not quite so clear cut. Sarah Wooldridge, a sophomore studying middle childhood education, said she thinks the bill is not a good idea in some situations.

“(Speech) should be limited to keep things appropriate and professional,” she said. “We need to learn how to interact and get our points across in appropriate ways. … We need to learn how to communicate our ideas professionally at our age now.”

Brenner stressed that the proposed bill does not tolerate speech that portrays a clear and present danger, which has been rhetoric ruled upon the U.S. Supreme Court in reference to free speech.

“If someone is causing threat or physical violence, that’s not tolerated and they should be arrested,” he said. “We’re talking speech (and a) discussion of ideas.”

Goodman said the two would likely introduce the bill to the Ohio House of Representatives in the next few weeks, and they hope to pass it through the Ohio House, Senate and governor’s office by next spring.

“Too often we’re talking at each other or past each other,” Goodman said. “We see this as a step toward creating a healthier climate and a healthy dialogue so that young people on college campuses are fully equipped to be engaged and successful citizens of Ohio.”

@AbbeyMarshall

am877915@ohio.edu

 Originally published for The Post on Sept. 12, 2017.