Francine Reuter was born and raised in Alaska by her parents with the help of her maternal and paternal grandparents who had become Alaskans in 1948. She graduated from Service High School in Anchorage, University of Portland in Oregon and Alaska Pacific University where she earned her Masters of Arts by producing an equestrian program which emphasized character education. Francine’s education and accomplishments outside of formal education includes trophy-winning dog –racing events, hunting, horsemanship, both as a student and an instructor, and participation in environmental and other community projects.
After working about three years as a special education teacher, I spent a substantial amount of time reflecting on my passions, gifts, and what I really enjoyed. Riding horses and dog mushing are my main loves, and as a teenager the only other career I had seriously considered was counseling. As a consequence of this reflection, I found I wanted to combine my love of animals with my other passion, helping others. The question then became “How can I support myself and have a fulfilling career which combines teaching life effectiveness skills and frequent involvement with animals, particularly horses?”
Initially I began my intellectual-emotional journey to an equestrian learning career by researching therapeutic riding programs. In 1990, the only therapeutic equestrian programs I could locate were for the physically challenged. Although I knew therapeutic riding was not going to be my precise focus, the program director for Lake Shore Technical College happened to be traveling to Anchorage in the summer of 2000. The therapeutic riding administrator and I were able to organize a week-long training conference. I benefited from collaboratively designing and facilitating this workshop.
It was not until 2001 that I began researching and found Equine Facilitated Therapy. I was very surprised and excited to discover that the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association was developing a division called Equine Facilitated Mental Health Association (EFMHA). This discovery led me to find equine-facilitated programs in California, Virginia, and New Hampshire. During this time, I was regularly visiting the horse sections in book stores. Linda Kohanov in, The Tao of Equus helped propel me toward a career change and the field I now know to be Equine Experiential Learning or Equine Facilitated Learning.
When reading about the year-long Epona Apprenticeship Program, I realized there was a possibility that Alaska Pacific University might allow me to include the Epona apprenticeship as part of a graduate program. I began a search to incorporate my two passions (love of animals and helping people) with earning the Master’s degree I needed to advance professionally and add credibility to my equestrian summer school vision. Alaska Pacific University’s Master of Arts program seemed to offer me a way to have a fulfilling career helping teens happily reach their goals through equine-assisted instructional experiences. Believing Alaska Pacific University’s Capstone program and my desires to have a career involving animals and helping teens made a perfect match, I started to design an equestrian-assisted learning program for teens.
I began my investigation into experiential learning to find research-based methods and material teachers and administrators could use to help teens grow academically and socially while enjoying the education process. I knew there were proven ways to make school fun, relevant, and needs satisfying; I believed these could be found in experiential learning. I chose “Sukan Wakan” because it is the Lakotas’ expression for horse, and I have used Native Americans’ quotations to enrich every lesson with their wisdom and spirit.