The horses are trained to work in the sessions without the need for tethering. Various activities are undertaken with the horses such as carrying out tasks in line with the movement of the horse, interacting, handling and managing the horse. These activities are an aid to better communication and decision making as the horse has to fully understand what you are asking of it.
The purpose of the sessions is to encourage you and the horse to build a relationship on trust and accept a working part in this relationship to consider feelings and emotions. This relationship encourages tolerance, learning to help the horse understand and how to adopt a calm and direct approach to achieve the tasks. During these activities, you will experience emotions which may be new such as connection with the horse emotionally and the feeling of achievement, helping the horse to understand your instruction and be able to follow the command asked for. The programmes are designed and tailored to individuals to slowly build self-confidence; as you develop you also build on self- esteem, develop tolerance, improve on social skills- become a team player, encourage decision making and improve communication skills.
We are not a horse riding project. All the activities take place on the ground.
An example of the activities is, the children will, with the Project Manager, build a small obstacle course using equipment supplied. One horse will be selected and brought into the area and they will work together to ask the horse to go round the obstacles and complete the course as a team. When completed the course we will have take time to get the children together and identify if they found problems which stood in the way of them completing the task. There will be, if needed, a discussion how these problems could be solved for everyone in the team. When this discussion is over the task of getting the horse around the course will be repeated addressing the problems mentioned and the children made aware of changes that could be made to counteract the problems they had brought to light making the team stronger and work come together as a unit. This task will be carried on through the sessions until the team achieve together getting the horse through the obstacles without restraints i.e. lead ropes on the horse.
There are other tasks which can be used to suit the situations, but the aim of them all is get the children communicating with each other, working together, and each member of the team being allowed to voice any issues they have whilst working with the other siblings.
If the parent/carers wishes to join in the task will be carried out with all family members becoming the team.
The structure of the tasks will be tailored to work with the individual issues of the family which prevents them becoming a working team thus leading to the best outcome for each family.
The value of this activity is that the family have to come together as a “team” from the very beginning due to the making of the course, as the obstacles have been chosen and the course designed by all the family. The Project Manager uses this time to study then interaction between the family members and identify any issues that need to be worked on throughout the task.
To ensure accessibility we will link with schools and family support charities such as Mind and the Downs Syndrome Society and with schools. Each are engaged with us as referral agencies. The families connected to their services will be referred to us as part of the support package they give. At the moment we have connections with only 15 organisations. However we will expand this list to more than 30 groups in the Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Rutland counties. Referring agents will receive regular contact from us by outreach meetings and them visiting our centre where we will promote referrals as part of their package of support for the child or family.
The 23 families that are waiting to take part in this project have one or more disabled child. Each family being allotted 4 sessions we are able to work with between 1 and 3 families per week over the twelve months period. The project will include the child and their siblings. Parents/ carers will be invited to join in the interaction with the horses making a whole family unit. The outcome will be that the family have interacted together with the horses to achieve certain tasks. This achievement will be the family coming together as a whole bringing a new understanding of each other’s needs thus forming a stronger unit.
One outcome was a young person who came to us because she was expelled from school, no school or work place would take her on. She was struggling with an extensive communication problem and through being rejected and not understanding why her self-confidence and self-esteem where very low. She found it almost impossible to be in an environment where she had to interact with other people especially in a teacher/ pupil relationship. The horses taught her that it was not the other people who were not listening to her properly but her not communicating correctly. This helped her to be more tolerant and understanding of her own issues instead of laying blame on everyone else. This is the type of outcome we want to carry on making. We have discovered that young people feel they are misunderstood and are not allowed to be able to produce what they are really capable of. We want to help young people to be able to make life choices, make a positive contribution and develop themselves.
Spirit at play worked with her for some time and the end result was she went to Brooksby College and did an Equine Course. Spirit at play has also worked with an Organisation helping adults with brain injuries. The joy and happiness the horses brought into this group for the short time they were with the horses had a lasting impact.
We founded SpiritAtPlay in May 2005 located in Markfield Leicestershire. After several happy years of involving children interacting with the horses and a great team of volunteers the lease on our land ran out and we had to move to a new location in Illston on the Hill where we currently reside. We put in a great deal of effort during 2017 and 2018 to construct the centre and get back to being able to offer a service of equine assisted learning. Thanks to our very understanding landlord and donations from local businesses we have successfully built up the facilities we need and an ideal home for the horses.
The main outcome of the project is achieved when the special needs child and their siblings have developed their ability to communicate, build confidence, self-esteem, tolerance and understanding when working with the horses. This is done by tasks and games with the horses which is for the children but in some cases parents/ Carers. Sometimes it becomes an all round task to converse with each other to help the horse to understand the directions they are giving to the horses and so making It understand what they want it to do for them. This is encouraged by the facilitator and coached along until desired outcome with the horse is met.