I became a Friend of HorseHeard fairly recently, a charity with which my daughter had become involved. My daughter had explained what it was about, and I had looked at the web site, but I still found it difficult to comprehend. When the opportunity arose to spend a day observing a programme, I jumped at the chance!
So it was that on a cold, foggy morning, a week or so ago, I found myself at an equestrian centre in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by happy people doing things with their horses. I was introduced to the three other HorseHeard facilitators who were running the programme for that day. They explained that the programme had been devised specifically to help the young people attending on that day. These were nine girls aged between eleven and eighteen each facing challenges of one sort or the other, and all of whom lacked self-confidence – none of them had any.
Initial introductions in a classroom were difficult. They were all very shy and apprehensive; only one of them had ever been near a horse and the rest were very worried about getting anywhere near one. With gentle coaxing and encouragement from the HorseHeard team, they started to open up a little and appeared less frightened.
Then it was time to meet the ponies in the arena and to get to know them. The girls were divided into two groups, and started by stroking the ponies, individually at first and then all together on either side. After about half an hour, all were enjoying the experience, and talking to the ponies, with a little encouragement from the helpers. Then it was time to do some grooming, which the ponies absolutely loved. One even went to sleep, he was so relaxed!! The girls were too, and back in the classroom for the next session they said how much they had enjoyed themselves.
Back in the arena, it was time to learn how to lead the ponies around with the leading rein. Some girls were already showing more confidence than others, and these found it quite easy to persuade the pony to go with them. The others found it quite a challenge, but with coaching and help, in the end they were able to show the pony that they were confident too, and would lead them where they wanted them to go. This all took a lot of time and patience, but I could already see how the girls were gradually getting more confident. Even those who weren’t able to speak at the beginning of the day were chatting with the others as well as to the ponies. It was quite remarkable seeing the change in them in such a short time.
There was another session in the classroom which I did not attend, after which it was back to the arena for the final session with the ponies. This time they had to lead them round an obstacle course; because of the brilliant tuition from the HorseHeard facilitators most of the girls were able to lead the ponies where they should go. Some had difficulty, but again, with gentle coaching they all managed it in the end.
I was not privy to the conversations between helpers, girls and ponies, but whatever was said must have been magical, because in the end they were all getting the ponies to do what they wanted them to do. They were enjoying the interaction and company of the each other and the ponies, and were quite sorry when the programme finished.
At the end of the day, the girls were very different from when they had arrived that morning. I was amazed at the difference – they were laughing, chatting, friendly and full of self-confidence, which I never thought possible after just one programme with HorseHeard.
I now understand what it’s all about, having witnessed the work that HorseHeard do with children from challenging backgrounds, and I hope they are able to continue their good work with other young people.