Equine team members are providing a life-line for young people during the pandemic


Horses rescued by charity HorseWorld are at the front line of providing essential support to vulnerable young people struggling to cope with the impact of the Covid crisis.

The organisation’s Discovery programme offers a unique system of equine assisted learning to students who, for a variety of reasons, are unable to access traditional schooling. Discovery has often proved to be the only way that they are able to build resilience, gain confidence, and learn essential life skills.

“We've all felt the repercussions of living through the Covid crisis but for our students, many of whom were already struggling with anxiety and depression, the last ten months have been particularly traumatic,” said Sharon Howell, Discovery Course Leader.

“Connecting with our horses can be a huge source of comfort and a calming influence for our students, the benefits of which aren’t just felt when they’re here on the yard but also when they’re living day-to-day as well.”

The charity were forced to stop all sessions to adhere to the restrictions of the first lockdown – a loss which was felt by all involved.

“Many of the young people we work with rely on their weekly sessions with our wonderful rescued horses for what could be their only source of non-judgemental, supportive, positive learning. So to have Discovery taken away from them at a time when their anxiety and stress was at an all-time high was incredibly difficult for many of them. A huge source of support had been suddenly removed at the time they needed it the most.”

But it didn’t just have a negative effect on the students – their equine teachers seemed to feel the loss too.

IMG_8672.jpeg“All the equine members of our Discovery team love being the centre of attention during our sessions. Every morning of term time their heads will be over their stable doors, waiting for students to arrive. We have the pleasure of watching as each horse works their ‘magic’ and subtly seems to respond to what the young person needs in that moment. So when the sessions literally had to stop overnight, we saw the change in the horses. They really seemed to be missing our students, and just weren’t themselves without being able to do their job,” said Sharon.

As an alternative learning provider registered with the local authority, the charity has been able to continue delivering the programme since the most recent lockdown began, albeit with strict safety measures in place and some changes made to how the sessions are delivered.

“We heard from parents and students about how hard it was for them during the first lockdown. It was heart-breaking to know that the children and young people had found it so hard to cope, but at the time there was nothing we could do. So we’ve done all we can to ensure that during this lockdown we’re able to keep students and our horses connecting through 1-2-1 sessions,”

The equine front-line workers are providing support at a time when requests for student places on Discovery courses have been at an all time high, and the charity is doing all they can to accommodate as many students as possible.

“Obviously we’re always mindful of how many sessions it’s appropriate for our horses to do, even though they’re almost always as keen to participate as their young friends. But the reality is that for vulnerable young people like our students, Discovery has never been more needed than it is now,” said Sharon.

“The demand for Discovery is already at an all-time high and I fear that it’s only once the peak of Covid has subsided that we’ll be hit with an even bigger wave of children and young people who are struggling to cope with the effects of living through these exceptionally stressful times. We will be doing all we can to offer what we know is this life-changing course to as many as possible.”

Sixteen-year-old Discovery student Lauren has been attending sessions for the last three years, but has known since she was 7 years old that spending time with horses was hugely beneficial in helping her live with her ADHD. She says;

“Horses are crucial to my survival because being with them slows my brain down. It’s amazing how different the horses are with different people and students. Now I’ve become much more aware of the horse’s behaviour, and it tells you so much about human behaviour. Because all the horses are so different with their own personalities it gets you to understand your own personality a bit more.

“The horses all have their own stories which means if you’re really struggling you feel ok about it, because the horses struggle too sometimes. There’s something about these horses – they're the most understanding I’ve ever met. After my sessions I feel like I’ve had a full-on rant in a therapy session, but I haven’t had to talk at all.IMG_8642.jpeg

“During the first lockdown I was really anxious because we didn’t know how long it was going to last for, and I didn’t know how I was going to be without being around the horses. I went back to school before the Discovery sessions started and I felt so stressed – even my friends noticed it in my eyes.

“I just can’t focus without the horses. Quite often people like me with ADHD really struggle in school, but with the horses when they reward you it’s such a huge feeling. It’s worth so much more. It’s like 20 million people saying ‘well done’, when it’s the reaction of just one horse.

In response to the huge surge in demand the charity is appealing for donations to assist HorseWorld in helping more vulnerable children and young people to access the courses - building their personal resilience and learning essential life skills. More information can be found at www.horseworld.org.uk/discovery-appeal.

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Article by: Meg Jackson

Posted on: 27th January 2021