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After 16 years, Petitto stills teaches and runs nonprofit

Woman and man help child pet horse

Did you graduate after 2007? Remember Carol?

Carol Petitto has been an adjunct instructor with the equine studies program since 2007, though that wasn’t exactly her plan. 

She graduated with a degree in journalism in 1977 but went back for her master’s degree and doctorate in human and community development – in 2010! Her doctoral work is in part what led to the equine studies curriculum.

Her adviser, Professor Emeritus Dennis Smith, helped develop her classwork and dissertation. 

“Not too many people ask someone who’s 50 years old, ‘What do you want to do with the rest of your life?’--assuming you’ve already done it. But Dr. Smith asked me that question,” Petitto said. “I said that I was interested in volunteering at a therapeutic riding center, but no one has a center around here. He said, ‘Why don’t you develop a center?’”

She looked into it and began working on opening On Eagles Wings, a therapeutic riding center located in Morgantown. 

Young man rides horse

“I was born wanting to ride a horse, and I’ve ridden all my life,” she said. “What I didn’t have experience with was working with people with disabilities.” 

Her doctoral curriculum sent her to the Monongalia County school system to work with groups with autism. At the same time, Smith asked her to develop equine programming. 

“Dr. Smith wanted to get an equine program going,” she explained. “He already started working on it with another faculty member and offered special classes. He was getting together a group of adjuncts to teach a small group of equine classes and develop interest throughout the campus. His vision turned into the minor.” 

This is where On Eagles Wings flies in to help.  

"They didn't have horses at that time,” Petitto said. “The only class with horses actually took place on my farm.” 

Soon after, the Reedsville property was acquired, and horses were brought there to live and work.  

Photo of young child looking at horse and drawing of horse

“All credit goes to Dr. Smith for realizing that students wanted horses, needed horses and that it was a big business,” she added. “Because of him, you can go to WVU without knowing much about horses and develop a pretty decent skillset.” 

The equine minor is now large enough to be divided into three tracks: equine management, equine science and equine assisted activities and therapies. Petitto offers two courses that comprise the curriculum of assisted activities and therapies. She works with students on their equine assisted and therapies practicum so they will be able to teach the course themselves after getting certified through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship. She also offers “volunteerism and equine assisted activities and therapies.” 

Although she has a fully functioning nonprofit organization to run, she has continued to teach equine courses. 

“I enjoy doing it. Plus, I can keep my skills sharp and keep up with the latest and greatest in the field. It’s also easy because I'm living what I'm teaching. It's what we’re constantly doing out here.” 

She said the center usually needs more instructors and volunteers, and the equine program has been a good conduit to get interested students and alumni involved.  

“I do get a great group of young people at the Davis College who come out and volunteer or want to become instructors at On Eagles Wings.” 

Petitto has kept in contact with alumni of the program through social media and with some working at the center. 

“The combination working at WVU and being aware of what students are interested in within the field has been so beneficial to developing this facility. Davis gave me everything I needed to do this – experiences, classes, and students and alumni."  Carol Petitto

If you’re interested in reconnecting with Petitto or with On Eagles Wings, email her at



CONTACT: Leah Smith 
Communications Specialist
Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design 

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