Lessons from the "Horse Whisperer"

David Allsopp

Professor, College of Education

Department of Special Education




David Allsopp grew up in Ocala, Florida’s horse capital, and as a young boy was interested in becoming a veterinarian. Therefore, it’s no surprise that hanging on the wall of his office in the College of Education is an autographed photo of legendary “horse whisperer” Monty Roberts. The reason Allsopp admires the renowned horse trainer, however, has more to do with his current role in special education than it does with his childhood aspirations.


As an undergraduate student at Furman University, Allsopp was interested in human behavior and earned a degree in psychology. He was taking graduate courses in counseling with the intention of becoming a psychologist when he began substitute teaching as a way to pay his bills. Coincidentally, since he was asked to teach students in special education classes, he found his psychology background particularly useful.


“While substitute teaching, I fell in love with working with young people, especially students who were struggling due to learning or emotional disabilities,” he says. “I decided to stop my graduate work in psychology and I began my preparation as a special educator.”


And it’s as a special educator that Allsopp is influenced by Roberts’ approach to helping horses that have experienced traumatic events to “join up” with humans — an approach based on communication and developing trust.


One of the most important lessons Allsopp tries to convey to his students as they prepare to become special education teachers is that while curriculum and textbooks are important, “Teaching is really about building relationships. It’s about guiding students so they can find out who they are. And that takes creativity and risk-taking.”


Allsopp believes that teachers are, above all else, problem solvers. “If we, as teachers, believe that students are individuals with individual needs, then how to best reach a particular student is a continuous problem-solving process.”


Allsopp’s research, which focuses on instructional methods for students with learning and behavioral problems, reflects this philosophy. In particular, his interests involve effective mathematics instruction and social skills instruction for students with learning problems and effective academic interventions for postsecondary students with learning disabilities and ADHD.


Allsopp teaches both undergraduate and graduate students and enjoys seeing his students grow and develop. “It’s always a pleasure to see them finally put the pieces together, understanding how their learning experiences in our programs have helped them to transform into special education professionals who can and will do great things for students who struggle in our K-12 schools.”



-- Mary Beth Erskine, University Communications & Marketing