A programme for young adults with additional learning needs to help them prepare for work

Client group: Swindon Borough Council Adult Community Learning

The Workhorse programme was created as a consequence of Swindon Borough Council advertising for suppliers who were able to deliver emotional resilience training for young adults with additional learning needs, who were looking for paid or voluntary employment.  HorseHeard delivered the first Workhorse programme as a pilot in July 2017.  Following the success of this pilot programme two further courses were run in the summer of 2018.  The programmes run in 2018 were slightly modified from the pilot so that they met OFSTED reporting requirements.

Workhorse is delivered over four half-day sessions at approximately weekly intervals.  Each session starts with a short discussion in a classroom that sets out the objectives of the session and reviews the progress that has been made in the intervening period.  This is then followed by approximately ninety minutes of Equine Facilitated Learning where the participants work alongside horses / ponies.  The high-level objectives of the four sessions are:

  • Session 1 –           Self awareness
  • Session 2 –           Awareness of how emotions and behaviours affect others
  • Session 3 –           The emotions and behaviours of a good employee
  • Session 4 –           Teamwork

Horses are herd animals and as such are strongly aware of the energy, intentions and non-verbal communication of others and also 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 the young person is in a given moment. Trained facilitators use these qualities in the horses as a sounding board to encourage self-awareness, confidence and self-esteem in young people and adults with additional learning needs.

In 2018 a standardised reporting procedure was introduced to meet OFSTED requirements.  This includes setting SMART objectives at the beginning of the programme, and then participants self-evaluate their progress in the classroom at the end of each session.  Theses individual assessments are reviewed by the Lead Facilitator, before the next session, who comments on the level of achievement and provides guidance on intermediate objectives for the following session.

The participants on the Workhorse programme have had a wide variety of additional learning needs.  Some are on the Autism Spectrum, some have severe anxiety problems and the majority lack self-confidence.  To accommodate this wide spectrum of challenges that the participants are facing the HorseHeard facilitators pay particular attention to the language that is used and take care to avoid colloquialisms.  The Equine Facilitated Learning sessions are conducted in approximately 20-minute periods with short breaks so that the participants are not required to maintain an emotional focus for too long at any one time.

The outcomes of the Workhorse programme are very encouraging.  Most of the participants have gained voluntary or paid employment within three months of completing the programme.  A young man who, at the start of the programme, was unable to enter the classroom and needed to be accompanied wherever he went is now driving on his own to work with an animal charity.   A young lady who, through a traumatic experience, had lost the power of speech, managed to speak her first word in several months in the first session when she told the horse to ‘STOP’ and by session four was holding short coherent conversations.

In addition to the formal reporting within the programme each participant is asked, at the end of each session, to describe their feelings and emotions or what they learnt in a single word or short phrase.  Here are their words:

Good Relaxed Impressive Belonging Calm Confidence
Peaceful Enthusiastic Motivational Inspirational Fantastic Exciting
Adaptable Determined Leadership Focus Communication Awesome

Here is a summary quote from one of the young adults: “Challenging in a very positive way”

Her support worker, Julia Fraser reported the following:

She performed so well and naturally at an interview shortly after completing the Workhorse programme that she was offered the job.  I do not believe this would have been possible if she had not attended the programme.”

One support worker repeatedly said that she had not seen Katie so engaged and excited for some time.

Another said: “Jamie made good progress.  His communication skills showed some improvement and on a couple of occasions he showed a very good sense of humour by mimicking the HorseHeard Facilitator”.

A video of the learners’ experience and the impact of the ‘Workhorse’ programme can be seen here or go to:


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