‘Being Friends’

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

Client group: Year 5 and 6 Mainstream Primary School Children

‘PonyPals’ a two session programme that was designed to meet the specific needs of twelve Year 5 and 6 pupils at a Primary School in Yate, Bristol.  It was based on the HorseHeard four-week behaviour change programme ‘Being Friends’ but compressed into just two 2-hour sessions.

The specific outcomes identified were:

  • Increased confidence, self-esteem and self-belief;
  • Managing feelings and controlling behaviour through greater self-awareness;
  • Developed ability to persevere even when things get tough or challenging;
  • Know it is ok to try something new/different.

The HorseHeard PonyPals outcomes aligned with and reinforced the published school values “The St Paul’s Way” of:  Friendship, Respect, Perseverance, Caring, Honesty, Thankfulness, Confidence.

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 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. 

It was heartfelt to see a boy, who was usually rowdy and one of the crowd, notice one of the girls struggling to overcome her fears. He quietly went over to give encouragement while walking alongside her and the pony. This notably positive behaviour is typical of what can happen in the presence of the ponies.

 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 “When I kept my hopes up and kept trying, the pony would do what I wanted him to do” led to “If I get stuck in Maths, I will keep my hopes up and keep trying”.

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.

The children thoroughly enjoyed it and got such a lot out of it.  It was fascinating to watch how they responded and developed during the sessions.”  Kirsty, Teaching Assistant

Six weeks after the programme ended this is what the teaching staff said:

  • Since PonyPals one pupil is becoming more open about their own emotions in one to ones.
  • Another usually lacks confidence and is shy – since PonyPals it is significant that he talks to teaching staff every day, speaking positively about his work and sharing what he has done well.
  • One girl’s confidence in one to ones and small groups has improved. She is more willing to give things a go and try her best and less worried about not doing well/letting others down/making mistakes.
  • Another girl found confidence to let the teaching staff hear her singing solo. She is also persevering with school work and becoming more confident in English.

 The following quotes also demonstrate some of the positives that the children took away:

“I don’t need to be scared”

“I am able to do things I didn’t think I could”

“I have made a new friend”

The HorseHeard team worked closely with the support worker at the School which greatly enhanced the long-term impact and subsequent achievements each child has made. The daily endorsement and reminders of the work done with the ponies by teaching staff helps sustain their learning.

A lovely example to show this was when a teacher gave a pep talk to remind one of the children what they had learned from the pony.  This enabled her to take part in Sports Day for the first time ever, she persevered in all three of her races, finishing last in all but with a smile on her face.

Maxine Sewell, Head Teacher gave her overall feedback: Thanks for the wonderful opportunity our children had with HorseHeard. I’m really pleased to say that the work is still very much alive for them and we have had positive feedback and interest from parents too”.  

Caroline Brown, Volunteer Non-Executive Director, for HorseHeard who attended the PonyPals Programme for the first time commented: “The impact of such a short intervention can be life-changing for children, giving them an experience and skills that gently bring out the very best in each of them”.

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