Occupational Therapy Program Partners with Petit Family Foundation

By Melissa Chighisola

Published: Friday, May 25, 2012

Updated: Friday, May 25, 2012 18:05

Kay Walker/ The Quad News

While horseback riding is often considered simply a recreational activity to many, occupational therapy students at Quinnipiac University regularly explore this activity as one type of treatment for patients. In cooperation with The Petit Family Foundation and HTC construction, the occupational therapy program has helped develop a new sensory trail at Hidden Acres Farm.

The trail will open on May 29 at Hidden Acres Farm, in Prospect, Conn. Modeled after a similar trail at High Hopes Therapeutic Riding in Old Lyme, Conn., the trail contains different stations that are targeted toward the development of different senses or occupational issues that patients might have.

According to the Hidden Acres website, the farm “ provides therapeutic horseback riding and equine assisted activities to children and adults with physical, developmental and emotional challenges in a supportive environment.”

The new trail was made possible with a grant from the Petit Family Foundation. The foundation was created by Dr. William Petit after losing his wife and two daughters to a violent home invasion in their Cheshire, Conn. residence in July of 2007.  

The mission of the foundation states that it is designed “to foster the education of young people, especially women in the sciences; to improve the lives of those affected by chronic illnesses; and to support efforts to protect and help those affected by violence.”  

The foundation’s partnership and funding of the creation of the sensory trail at Hidden Acres directly connects to its mission statement by helping those affected by illness and disability, as well as furthering the educational opportunities of Quinnipiac’s occupational therapy students.

“The foundation was able to respond to the grant for trails material and activity equipment because it is a program for children and young adults with chronic illness and disabilities including physical, developmental and emotional challenges,” said Rolande Petit.

According to Professor of Occupational Therapy Donna Latella, creating the trail was a very intricate and detailed process.

“It is not just something that you create for the sake of having a trail.  Each station must have a purpose to meet the needs of the riders,” Latella said.  

While each station holds the potential to aid occupational therapy patients in their recovery, the trail is also capable of creating new opportunities for Quinnipiac students.

“The students have helped to create and build this trail,” Latella  said. “It is our hope in the future that they may volunteer in the program at Hidden Acres and assess the effectiveness of the trail.”

Elizabeth Smith is a graduate occupational therapy student who had a hand in the planning and development of the sensory trail. She began work with the trail as a part of her senior capstone project.

“I was very excited to work on this project because I have seen other sensory trails, and I am very interested in using animals in the therapy process,” Smith said.  

The capstone students acted as an important part of the design of the trail from the very beginning stages. Students, like Smith, assisted in planning the different stations to meet a variety of needs, obtained funding, purchased the materials and helped construct the stations on the trail.

Smith said she became an occupational therapy major because she wanted to work in a job that was creative, but also challenging. The sensory trail is an outlet which allowed her to do just that.

It is her hope that future occupational therapy capstone students will expand on the project by creating new stations and perfecting the ones that already exist to help the trail grow in the coming years.