Written by Elise El-Hoss 11 January 2019

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Changing Lives Through Horses

The programme will also benefit those with mental health issues, particularly anxiety or depression, to help improve self-esteem, morale and confidence.  

The aims of the programme are to develop six key life skills through equine facilitated learning, the first being communication. For many young people communication can be inhibited through fear of saying the wrong thing; the lovely thing about working with horses is that communication between horse and handler can be non-verbal.  Horses are also an excellent tool for reflection; they are able to mirror ones feelings and emotions thus giving immediate feedback to how one is feeling (Dixon- Clegg, 2018 and Grummit, 2017).

The second life skill is confidence, which ties in nicely with communication and the sixth life skill personal achievement. Working with such big animals can initially feel quite scary and intimidating, but as learners spend more time handling the horses and progressing and achieving on the course, their confidence naturally begins to grow. As these young people start to grow in confidence, working with their peers and teachers their verbal and non-verbal communicational skills will develop and become stronger. Working within the equestrian environment has also been shown to help encourage the use of positive coping strategies and develop resilience (Dixon- Clegg, 2018).  

The third life skill is relationships. Good relationships will develop with other peers on the programme and with teachers through good communication, acceptance and trust; including a two-way trusting relationship with the horse. These skills required for a good relationship can then be transferred to relationships with appropriate family members and friends (British Horse Society, 2018).

The fourth life skill is teamwork. Working with horses in an outdoor environment, means that the young people on the programme will be facing new challenges and problem solving activities on a daily basis. This provides excellent opportunities for teamwork amongst peers and achieving mutual goals (British Horse Society, 2018).

The fifth life skill is responsibility. Looking after a horse requires a great deal of time and care. Whilst on the programme, learners will come to understand that horses within a domesticated environment are unable to fend for themselves and are therefore very reliant upon humans to care for them. Learners will be responsible for and take pride in grooming, mucking out and feeding the horses on a regular basis.

As our learners progress through the programme they will receive certificates for their achievements. We hope at the end of the programme, learners will then have the confidence to further their education and potentially progress onto one of the horse management courses here at Plumpton College or in another educational or employment opportunity, but in all cases our focus is on the learner developing beyond their perceived potential.

The CLTH programme has been piloted firstly with our level 1 horse care students here at the college. All learners have really benefited from the programme in terms of developing their equine skills and building confidence and have successfully achieved the first stage in the programme.

We have also begun developing our partnership with East Sussex Foster Care Association for Looked after Children and Brighton and Hove City Council Adolescent Services who have attended our camps.  Their fabulous young adults fully engaged in the day and the feedback from them was extremely positive.  Camps are also open to self-funded individuals and family groups who feel they would benefit from time working with horses.

Going forwards, we are very excited about the opportunity to continue to work with the Adolescent Services in Brighton and Hove. The young people the Adolescent Services work with are aged 10 -17 years, and the services focus on providing provision for these young people who are at high risk of entering custody or local authority care and are at risk of/or experiencing Child Sexual  Exploitation (CSE) and Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE). Many of the young people that they work with experience multiple levels of disadvantage and marginalisation such as family mental health difficulties, deprivation, substance misuse, low education attainment, victimisation, neglect, abuse and isolation.

The Adolescent Service comprises of a Social Work Team, Youth Offending Team, Substance Misuse and Heath Team, Functional Family Therapy Team, Youth Employability Team and Extended Adolescent Team who provide outreach to young people during and outside of ‘normal’ office hours.  Alongside fulfilling their statutory duties, the different teams work in collaboration to provide young people with stability, empathy, boundaries, opportunity, guidance and structure.

Brighton and Hove Children’s Services have a relationship-based model of practice, which means that they base the foundations of their work with children, young people and families in developing strong, consistent and meaningful relationships to create an environment for positive and sustained change in young people’s lives. Working in this way helps to increase the young people’s opportunities to remain in the care of their family network, achieve in education and training, build confidence and self-esteem, build resilience, identify, and work towards aspirations.  Increasing opportunities, personal development and independent living skills, which supports the young people to process and recover from trauma and exploitation as well as reducing substance misuse and criminal activity. 

Carly Stockton who is manager of the Adolescent Pod Team states: 

We are extremely excited to be working with CLTH at Plumpton College; it will create another avenue of opportunity for our young people to develop skills in relationship building, commitment and mutual respect. This will be an exciting and challenging experience for our young people and is something that we believe they will draw strength from for other areas of their lives.

We are hoping that the CLTH programme will continue to grow and we have the opportunity to work with many other organisations in the future. For more information on this programme, please contact Elise El-Hoss (CLTH Programme Leader) by email at: elise.elhoss@plumpton.ac.uk  

References:            

The British Horse Society (2018)

Dixon-Clegg, J (2018)

Grummitt, C., 2017. Horses and Human Health. Wiltshire: Riverside Publishing Solutions.  

Thank you to The British Horse Society and a special thank you to Jennifer Dixon-Clegg for your inspiring training on how horses can facilitate learning and therapy and bring about positive change in so many areas of a persons life.

A final thank you to ‘Stand Time Productions’ for the great photos shown in figure 3 and 5 and for helping us create a short film on the CLTH programme, which is going to be shared on social media very soon.

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