BLACKSBURG, Va. — As Devin Wynne curried — a method that loosens dirt, hair, and more from a horse — Gideon watched. Not just with his eyes, but with his nose.
Gideon is a trained service dog that can smell seizures and potential cardiac events from Wynne, a senior from Mount Airy, Maryland. Gideon usually sits off to the side during class and only breaks his “down” to tap Wynne with his nose that he sensed something and that she needs to take a break. Without Gideon, Wynne wouldn’t be able to participate in Jessica Bedore’s horse lab in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences School of Animal Sciences.
“I’m able to go and sit down instead of interrupting the entire class with a medical issue,” Wynne said. “He allows me to participate in class, and I wouldn’t have been able to halter a horse and learn all these things in person. He helps me feel included.”
If Gideon senses something, he is trained to do compression therapy, where he lays on the chest and helps restore blood flow.
Both the safety of Gideon and the horses were taken into account in the horse lab. For example, any group of which Wynne is a part has priority for shade so Gideon isn’t exposed to the constant sun. Also, for any area in which they worked, it was ensured that Gideon had a direct line of sight on Wynne to aid in response times.
“I want everyone with an interest in equine science to have an opportunity to be in my classroom. If you want to be here, we will make it happen,” said Bedore, an associate professor of practice in the school. “Hearing her stories has opened my eyes and helped me evaluate how our learning environments are constructed. There is also such joy in starting to normalize the involvement of persons of different abilities in the equine industry, which I think doesn’t often facilitate involvement all that well. Horses are for everyone, and just like other animals, involvement with horses can have so many benefits on human health and wellbeing.”
The experience has been positive for the other students as well. The other students respect Gideon’s vest that shows he is a service dog. Without being asked, the other students ensure that Wynne and Gideon have what they need.
“From the bottom of my heart I appreciate the work that Dr. Bedore is going in the general area of diversity and inclusion to make sure that I felt I was getting the same education as everyone else,” Wynne said.
–Max Esterhuizen, Virginia Tech