Academic Research Information

Heather is currently in a PhD research program through the University of Guelph, School of Environmental Design and Rural Development. Her inter-disciplinary research revolves around the question of possibilities for community based youth programming in rural areas, which leverages rural assets to provide opportunities for youth to develop important life skills for wellbeing and participation in civil society, through physical activity and interaction with horses.

Research shows benefits of participation in physical activity and in animal-assisted
experiential learning ranging from social inclusion and improved social skills, teamwork and leadership, to psycho-emotional benefits such as improved cognition, self-esteem, hope and resilience. Heather’s research draws on findings from positive youth development, resiliency, outdoor experiential learning, sport for human and community development, Green Care/nature-deficit literature, animal-assisted interaction and the particular value of the equine-assisted experience.

In today’s culture, there is an epidemic of obesity and mental health issues in youth, related to sedentariness and nature-deficit. While the Canadian youth obesity rate is roughly 21%, rural youth have an approximately 25% higher risk of obesity than urban youth due to the widening socio-economic gap and other factors affecting social inclusion and access to services. However, in many countries in the world, in-migration of the rural youth to cities without the infrastructure to support them results in widespread social and economic issues. Rural areas have valuable assets of nature and animals which can make important contributions to regional health through opportunities for social inclusion and for youth to be active, engage with nature, and build social connection and skill. In some countries in the developing world, youth are the majority demographic. These youth affected by ecological, public health, military and other traumas are in need of interventions that build resiliency, and equip them for well-being and the building of civil society.

Heather welcomes contact, information and feedback from researchers and practitioners in related fields.

For more information on Heather’s research in youth development through sport and nature, see the links below:
Research Papers:

HSansom- Physical Activity for Addressing Violence : new in Sport for Development, but long established practice in outdoor and animal-based recreation and therapy

Making the Case for Youth Development through Sport
Rural Change, Sustainability and Impact
Summary Plan of Study
Research Bibliography: Rurality, Youth Physical Activity and Development, and Community Wellbeing

Partial Annotated Bibliography

Heather’s secondary research area, started in 2007, is in biomechanics and conditioning for equestrians. She has established leadership in this niche through her fitness and coaching company Equifitt. She has spoken at regional and national conferences on rider fitness and position, and has contributed over 100 columns and articles in leading journals, as well as six ebooks on this subject. She is interested in learning about research which is being conducted in this area.

Contact Heather Sansom: sansomh@uoguelph.ca ; heather@heathersansom.ca

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