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NDSU professor uses equine therapy to help children

SENTINEL BUTTE, N.D. ­— A North Dakota State University professor is using horses to help modify the behavior of children with troubled backgrounds, and it seems to be working.

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Erika Berg, an assistant professor for NDSU’s equine studies program, has teamed up with the child care facility Home on the Range, near Sentinel Butte. She has collected data since 2008 that could provide evidence that equine-assisted therapy can help children better than traditional therapy, according to a news release.

“I’ve seen that my entire life that I’ve been involved with it, just all of these incredible things that are happening,” Berg said. “But we need to figure out a way to document that so it can be validated with the medical community … for different acceptance for an alternative treatment, but one that works.”

Using horses in mental health treatment is a field of study that is relatively new, Berg said. It is something that has been developed in the past 15 years. She has been involved with equine science for 20 years, and when she got to NDSU in 2008, she wanted to try to find a way to use her love for horses to help others.

The study begins when Berg and Home on the Range employees assess children admitted to the facility. The researchers identify children with negative or problematic behaviors — such as lying, aggression and defiance — directed toward their surroundings, Berg said.

Berg studies children ages 12 to 19 for 12 weeks, though the students stay in the program for the duration of their stay, said Mike Gooch, Home on the Range clinical director. The facility with a working ranch has had horse classes for students, but there has never been anything this extensive.

“It was more of meet once a week and do something with the kids,” Gooch said. “We have developed that and structured it, and designed some program outcomes with the help of Erika. We have really taken it to the next level.”

The study compares those tendencies to before and after their time in the program. Berg also compares the results to students that go through traditional therapy, such as talking with a therapist.

April Baumgarten
April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, as the news editor. She works with a team of talented journalists and editors, who strive to give the Grand Forks area the quality news readers deserve to know. Baumgarten grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family continues to raise registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college,  she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as the Dickinson city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.