Inspiring growth through equine-facilitated learning

Posted 11/29/22



Stone Hill Elementary School students were treated to sensory delights on Nov. 23. The students, all in grades 3 through 5 and diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, …

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Inspiring growth through equine-facilitated learning


Stone Hill Elementary School students were treated to sensory delights on Nov. 23. 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 bit about their horses.

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

The trip fit perfectly into her curriculum for the students, most of whom are nonverbal. The group had recently been working on nature projects, and Iacovone felt a visit to the farm fit quite well into that framework. She was also quite enthusiastic about the possibility of providing 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, provides Equine-Facilitated Learning (EFL), which focuses on improving emotional health and overall wellness. The cognitive behavioral-based program does not include riding, but an array of other activities to help increase mindfulness and foster an improved state of well-being.

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

Thorpe offers one-on-one as well as group sessions, and online learning and instruction to those who wish to become EFL practitioners. The farm currently houses five horses and a donkey, all of which have either been rescued or are in retirement/semi-retirement situations. Though she does not provide traditional equine therapy (which includes riding), Thorpe does utilize a network of neighboring farms and services when such an experience is requested.

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

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

Various items were set up on a table in the horses’ barn, including several brushes and three types of food: hay, feed cubes and carrots. Students, their caregivers and school faculty all engaged with the items as well as fed and brushed the horses and donkey.

The group got up close and personal with the horses, who were accustomed to groups of visitors, and farm staff was available to explain the horses’ behaviors, preferences and share the ways the farm takes care of them.

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

field trip, Stone Hill