Autumn Wacker O’Hara ’11 received her Master of Science degree in occupational therapy from Shenandoah University. O’Hara chose to pursue her degree at Shenandoah because of its hybrid occupational therapy program. “One of my fondest memories, as crazy as this sounds, is going to the juvenile detention center and seeing what occupational therapists can do in a setting like that,” said O’Hara.
O’Hara is the executive director for Ride-On Ranch Equine Assisted Therapies. It is a non-profit organization located in western Loudoun County, Virginia. “The mission of Ride-on Ranch is to provide therapy to as many people as possible with cognitive, psychological and physical disabilities, by building social, physical and emotional skills through the use of hippotherapy and other equine-assisted activities,” said O’Hara. “Ride-on Ranch reaches a variety of people by using a holistic approach, providing the right activity for everyone who comes out to the ranch.”
At Ride-On Ranch, visitors are able to interact with many animals including sheep, cows, dogs and donkeys, enabling them to get the true ranch experience. “I’ve seen clients make extensive gains through the use of hippotherapy,” explained O’Hara. “I have seen kids talk, walk and play with their peers who could not do so previously.”
O’Hara credits Shenandoah with giving her some of the tools she needed to succeed. “With a master’s degree from Shenandoah University comes a network of health professionals as well as the education needed to pursue my dreams,” said O’Hara.
O’Hara’s advice for students is: “There is so much information out there and so much that occupational therapists can do and be involved in. Research all there is out there, find your passion, and then pursue your passion.”