Copyright 2009 Spirit of Sunka Wakan 
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.
Epona Approved Instructor
Certified Horseman Association Level 1 Instructor
After working about three years as a special education teacher, I
recognized I was not meant to continue teaching in this particular
capacity for the next 20-30 years.   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. (see
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. 
Why Horses?
The horse is a symbol of
freedom, strength, pride and
courage.  This four legged
animal is able to flawlessly
assist human beings searching
for roots, wholeness, and
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