UNCG Campus Weekly

Campus Weekly is published each Wednesday when classes are in session. In the summer, it is published biweekly.

Taking the Reins

032410Feature2_Horsepower“This is a leadership class,” Tim Clifford told a group of students from UNCG and Beyond Academics gathered for the first day of a class at a horse farm in Colfax. “Out here we’re going to learn how we can lead ourselves better, and we’re going to learn ways we can lead others.”

The students are studying to be special education teachers. A partnership with UNCG, Beyond Academics is a college experiential program for adults with intellectual disabilities. Students in Beyond Academics are part of the university community and work toward living as independently as possible.

Clifford, a former teacher and principal with close-cropped grey hair, led the 12-week class at Horsepower, a nationally certified therapeutic riding program. Meeting once a week during the fall semester, the morning-long class paired UNCG students with Beyond Academics students.

During the second class, Bradley (in blue shirt) from Beyond Academics and his UNCG partner, Ai Kamei, worked with a brown and white horse named Tailor.

Bradley, shifting his weight anxiously from foot to foot, held the placid horse’s lead rope. “Walk on,” he said softly to the horse. Neither Bradley nor the horse took a step.

“You’re in charge,” Clifford coached Bradley. “You’re a leader. Walk where you want him to go and he’ll follow. Trust yourself and trust the horse. What are you going to do if you get nervous?”

“Deep breath,” Bradley replied. “Walk on,” he urged the horse, his voice a little louder. Ai encouraged Bradley.

“Walk on!” Bradley told the horse and together they walked forward.

“I like how you said that, Brad,” Clifford said. “Better and better. You’re going to be a cowboy.”

The Horsepower program wasn’t just about leadership and riding the horses. It was also about learning to care for them. Students mucked stalls and groomed the horses.

“They’re in there getting their hands dirty,” said Dr. Stephanie Kurtts, an associate professor in the Department of Specialized Education Services. “That’s very therapeutic. Caring for an animal teaches responsibility. It teaches accountability.”

The UNCG students are in Project RESTART, an effort Kurtts leads to recruit and support nontraditional adult students who are studying to become special education teachers. The U.S. Department of Education has backed Project RESTART with a four-year, $800,000 grant.

“Everyone is learning from one another,” Kurtts said of the Horsepower class. “The UNCG students and the Beyond Academics students are peers.”

The last day of the class was Dec. 9. Clifford congratulated the students on the courage they showed to go beyond their comfort zones. “Sometimes we need to go out and do a thing we’re not entirely comfortable with if it’s going to make our lives fuller.”

Bradley climbed atop the saddle. “Walk on!” he told his horse, Fantasia.

“So, you’re pretty relaxed up there?” asked Clifford.

“Yup,” Brad said with a contagious grin.

Taking a couple of slow laps around the arena, Bradley did look comfortable in the saddle. In fact, he looked a little bit like a cowboy.