The field of psychology only recently recognized horseback riding’s therapeutic power, but it’s something longtime horse rider Shannon Giguere '19 of Shrewsbury, Mass., has instinctively known. During an internship with Full Circle Farm Therapeutic Horsemanship (FCFTH), an equine assisted activities and therapies program located in Newport, N.H., Giguere helped deliver the healing power of horseback riding to a wide array of people with varied abilities and diverse needs, from veterans to 4-H Club members. Horseback riding improves participants physical health through improved motor skills and muscle control as well as their socio-emotional health by teaching trust, confidence and independence.

Giguere assisted her supervisor, FCFTH Program Director Lorna Young, with lessons, and provided a supportive presence by walking with the riders. She also worked in the program’s office, conducting research and applying for grants. One project was to create “social story” cards, a resource volunteers and employees can use to communicate with riders who need visual aids. This year, FCFTH launched a pilot program for children who have experienced trauma that Giguere co-organized.

Giguere’s internship merged her psychology major with her interest in working with animals. After discovering from Colby-Sawyer’s Harrington Center for Experiential Learning that other psychology majors found internships with similar therapeutic horsemanship programs, Giguere reached out to FCFTH. They were interested in the psychology background she brought to the position, as well as her experience on Colby-Sawyer’s equestrian team. FCFTH brought her on as their first intern. Giguere’s academic training in understanding anxiety and trauma as well as her superb empathy skills have made her an integral member of the team.

“We got really lucky with Shannon,” Young said. “She’s greatly skilled at knowing when to give a rider space and when to give them support.”

Working with riders whose differences are less familiar to Giguere has expanded her skillset, too.

“I can be reserved until I get to know people, but I’ve become more comfortable dealing with all the populations we serve while learning from Lorna,” Giguere said. Her internship has showed that her passions for helping people and animals can be combined into a viable professional path — after graduation she began graduate school at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.