MTSU takes reins in hosting therapeutic horse conf...

MTSU takes reins in hosting therapeutic horse conferences

Emily Hulak, left, Jessica Schultz and rider Emily Smith work on therapeutic horsemanship training as they may become equine-assisted activities and therapies trainers. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)

Emily Hulak, left, Jessica Schultz and rider Emily Smith work on therapeutic horsemanship training as they may become equine-assisted activities and therapies trainers. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)

MTSU’s Horse Science Center and Tennessee Miller Coliseum will be the site this week for respective national and regional conferences related to equine-assisted activities and therapies and therapeutic horsemanship.

The conferences will begin Thursday, Aug. 7, at Miller Coliseum ( and include the Aug. 7-8 Uniting Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies with Higher Education Conference and the Aug. 8-10 Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, or PATH, International Region 5 Conference.

Therapeutic horsemanship helps people with a wide range of emotional, cognitive and physical challenges, said Sarah Newton-Cromwell, an MTSU Horse Science graduate student who is scheduled to graduate Saturday, Aug. 9, with a master’s degree and will be a conference presenter.

Newton-Cromwell added that anyone can benefit from both therapeutic horsemanship through traditional riding lessons and equine therapy, where a licensed professional sets goals and tracks progress, and horsemanship skills may or may not be taught.

MTSU’s Horse Science program has been a pioneer in this, in particular working with the Alvin C. York VA Medical Center in Murfreesboro to provide equine-assisted activities and therapies to veterans.

When no other colleges or universities agreed to host the national conference with an emphasis in higher education, the regional conference leadership asked MTSU, which leaped at the opportunity.

“We saw the need for the higher education conference so we actually developed that idea and then approached AQHA (the American Quarter Horse Association) for a grant to host it,” said associate professor Holly Spooner, who also serves as Miller Chair of Equine Health at the Horse Science Center on West Thompson Lane.

About 60 people preregistered for the national conference, which Spooner believes will be a uniting of the equine-assisted activities folks with those in higher education to discuss career opportunities for students, research in the area and future endeavors, and offers “an opportunity for MTSU to show our facilities as well as the great work we are doing in the area,” she said.

Spooner and Newton-Cromwell said national conference attendees would come from Arizona, Colorado, Texas, New Hampshire and other states.

“It’s a chance to get everyone together and share what they are doing, talk about research and what we need to do in the area of research to move this field forward,” Spooner said.

The regional conference will bring 120-plus professionals here from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky and Puerto Rico.

Part of the training MTSU students receive is in therapeutic horsemanship and equine-assisted activities and therapies as the university’s horse science program continues as a pioneer in the area.

Newton-Cromwell is a PATH International-certified advanced instructor and mentor with 17 years of equine-assisted activities and therapies experience. She will lead a Sunday, Aug. 10, session on the collaboration between the Horse Science Center and Veteran’s Recovery Center — a program that helps veterans who struggle with hope, self-esteem, trust and community integration because of serious and persistent mental illness.

Newton-Cromwell said she will miss her commencement.

“I prefer missing for an opportunity like this,” she said. “It’s like the best graduation because I’m out there doing it.”

Late registration will be available for local residents who might have an interest in this endeavor.

For more on the higher education and equine-assisted activities and therapies conference, visit

For more information on the PATH International and the Region 5 conference, visit

To learn more about the MTSU Horse Science program, visit or call 615-898-2832.

— Randy Weiler (