‘Being Friends’

A programme for School Children to develop confidence and self-esteem

Client group: Year 5 and 6 Mainstream Primary School Children

‘Being Friends’ is a four-week emotional health and wellbeing behaviour change programme working with primary, special and early secondary school children and their teaching staff to develop emotional resilience. This is achieved by encouraging and supporting participants to acknowledge similarities and differences, express feelings and increase their emotional vocabulary, caring for self and others and improve communication. Developing these skills has the potential to enhance relationships and behavioural choice, increase school attendance and attainment, and reduce behavioural incidents and bullying.

The aim of the programme is to build and maintain Friendship and Community with the following outcomes:

  • Developed ability to make and maintain friendships
  • Ability to work with and care for others
  • Increased confidence, self-esteem and self-belief
  • Increased self-awareness,
  • Ability to manage their energy with greater awareness of impact of behaviour on others
  • Ability to work together as a team
  • Developed ability to persevere even when things get tough or challenging

Horses are herd animals and as such are strongly aware of the energy, intentions and non-verbal communication of others and being prey animals they are constantly sensitive to their environment and those around them.  Horses respond without judgement, providing an instantaneous truthful reflection of how a young person is in a given moment. Trained facilitators use these qualities in the horses as a sounding board to encourage greater life skill development.

Using this approach, which is entitled Equine Facilitated Learning, children can challenge themselves to do something unfamiliar and share feelings and emotions with each other in a safe environment.  The exercises set by the facilitators are simple and varied.  The magic happens when the individual young person is with the pony and the pony mirrors back to them behaviours they are not even aware of, which helps them to do things differently.

  • Examples of impact on individual children as noted by a Headteacher…
    • A development in self-confidence, proving to themselves that they are able to do things despite recent challenges
    • Much more confident to speak up and ask questions
    • A greater awareness of impact of their actions on others; improving self-control
    • Improvement in self-confidence and resilience; within school focusing on writing
    • Improved self-esteem and self-confidence in class

At the end of each session the children explained to ‘Aitch Aitch’ and their peers what they had learned from the pony and what action they will take in school as a consequence of their learning.  For example “Horse would not stop until I believed he would stop” led to “I believe I can do more in Maths”.

Our lovable soft toy mascot Aitch Aitch has his own stable and web page on Club HorseHeard http://www.horseheard.com/club/ where children can continue their connection with horses and HorseHeard.

In addition to subjective evidence, the effectiveness of the programme was evaluated by the children using the HorseHeard pre and post questionnaire. Designed by Primary School Head Teachers, the questionnaire measures four life skills with a five-scale measurement (e.g.  zero = I have no confidence at all; five = I am confident all the time). The graph below shows the results of the children’s perceptions before and after the programme.

Life skills measurement – pre and six -weeks post programme:

  • Self -confidence
  • Own feelings and awareness of others
  • Managing feelings and controlling behaviour
  • Emotional resilience

The graph clearly shows that the children’s life skills improved beyond the life of the programme and this was also mirrored by the teacher’s feedback.

Alfie said: I’ve learned that I am more confident.  I need to keep going and keep my energy”. “I can do it! I’ve learned to be brave and happy” said Ricardo. Another child said “I was a good team member by helping people when they got scared”.

The model of working with children attending from a cluster of Primary Schools, provided an opportunity for them to meet and make new friends and start to develop new relationships,   including with the pony.  This enabled a dialogue around diversity and what makes a good friend and how to be and continue to be a good friend.  This is particularly relevant when the children are making the transition to Secondary School,  maybe finding themselves out of their comfort zone, having many new experiences and meeting lots of new people, which means they need to communicate well and eased by making good supportive friendships.

The children each worked on an action, specific to what they had learned about themselves by being with the pony, and implemented between sessions. Although the actions were individual, a theme emerged around self-confidence, self-belief and doing things differently. When the children spent time with a pony, with help from a facilitator, they made rapid changes in how they were thinking and feeling, leading them to have a different belief about what was possible for them and the actions they could take both short and long term.

Staff from the schools attended each session which enabled them to monitor progress and check on actions in school, and their feedback was very positive.  “The children have been really looking forward to their sessions; the programme is having a positive impact on them and supporting their progress in school.” Another said of one pupil “He really has come out of himself and he was able to speak with confidence in front of the entire group – expressing himself more than ever before”.


www.horseheard.com     Tel 0333  9390166     info@horseheard.com