On the outskirts of London sits a stable yard surrounded by trees and green fields. This is the home of Strength and Learning Through Horses, an Edgware-based charity with a difference. We work with vulnerable young people who often have mental health and behavioural difficulties, helping them to make positive changes in their lives through equine-assisted therapy and education programmes. So how does it work?
Imagine you are a 15-year old, struggling with social anxieties and a learning disability. You’re angry and frustrated because you find school too difficult and have no connection with your peers. No one seems to understand, and anyway, you find it difficult to express how you feel. It’s just easier to bunk off school and disengage from society and those around you.
Now imagine being that same 15-year old, suddenly in the middle of a field, up close and personal with a horse. You’ve never been near a horse before, and everything, including the air and the surrounding countryside, feels different. The trainers encourage you to approach the horse but you feel nervous. Staff have explained that you need to remain calm and confident or the horse will pick up on your anxieties and back away, but you’re not sure you can handle it ….
This is how many of our clients feel the first time they arrive. They are nervous and unsure and it can take a few sessions before they find their inner strength and confidence, but they invariably do. It is incredible to see a teenager who on their first visit could barely set foot in the stable, leading a horse around the arena a few weeks later.
Horses are an amazing mirror for human emotions. Our clients learn that how they react to the horses and how the horses react to them reflects their interactions with people and situations in other areas of their lives. Learning to adapt their behaviour around the horses gives them confidence and insight they never thought possible. Attending the education programmes gives them a chance to learn life skills such as self-discipline, time-keeping, leadership and teamwork.
Typical feedback from a support worker reports: ‘Pupils show … more resilience and an increased determination to struggle with challenges … they are less likely to just give up … they show more understanding of others … They became better at listening to and following instructions.’
Last year over 300 clients came to the stables, benefitting from a range of equine-assisted therapy services, including education programmes, holiday camps and work experience programmes. This year we are also launching a weekly after-school club for the summer term. Obviously, all of this costs money. As a small charity, fundraising is a vital part of our income and we rely on volunteers to enable us to run as many sessions as possible.
Visit www.strengthandlearningthroughhorses.org to find out more. We are always in desperate need of donations as well as volunteers to help with fundraising, marketing and to help with our programmes.