What about kids – can they benefit from this kind of workshop too?
Yes! Carrying out ground work exercises with ponies and horses can help children manage their own energy and emotions, become aware of the needs and emotions of others, and understand what and how they are communicating to others.
We run one-to-one and small group workshops with children in which they do similar exercises to those we use with adults – getting the pony or horse to move with and without the lead rope, negotiating a variety of obstacles, working with a (human) partner to carry out a specific task with the horse or pony.
As is the case with adults, the learning for children comes from the feedback they get from the animals they work with. We ask them to experiment with their energy and emotions, and they immediately see and feel the impact that has on the horse or pony’s behaviour. The takeaways are the tools we give them to change their inner state during the workshop, which we encourage them to use in other situations.
For example, we often use the concept of the ‘energy bubble’, asking children to picture their energy as something tangible, with shape, form, texture and colour. As we go through different exercises with the pony, we ask questions about the energy bubble, and how it’s changing, and link that to changes in the pony’s behaviour. Then we ask the child to change the energy bubble, and see how that affects what the horse or pony is doing – giving him the experience of how it feels to control his or her emotions, and the impact that has on others. After the workshop, reminding the child of his energy bubble and his ability to change it in different situations helps him to transfer the learning from the workshop to other areas of his life.
We have had good results with children in a number of areas, notably:
- building self-confidence in nervous or shy children;
- developing assertiveness in children who have difficulty standing up for themselves and speaking out;
- improving task focus in children who find it hard to concentrate on one thing at a time;
- helping children to better manage strong emotions, especially those linked to frustration when faced with challenging tasks.
We work with children from as young as five or six years old, with different levels of experience of ponies. One-to-one works well, as do small groups (maximum 4 children) if the dynamics between the children are positive. We usually start with ponies, but even very small children can quickly progress to working with horses if we feel it will help achieve the objectives.
The main difference between workshops for children and those with adults is the length and number of sessions. Children’s individual sessions are much shorter. A session with one child would last a maximum of an hour, while a session with a small group might be an hour and a half. The whole session is carried out in the arena, field or barn, with no classroom work.
Because we don’t try to ‘teach’ theory or concepts to children, but only give them the practical tools and experience, they need lots of practice. So typically we would recommend a series of 5 to 10 sessions over a period of time – it could be intensive, with one session per day for several consecutive days, or extensive, with one session per week over a number of weeks.
One thing which is essential in order for children to get the most out of the workshops is reinforcement between sessions. We recommend that someone who is in regular daily contact with the child (for example parent, carer, teacher) attends the first session to see what happens and how we work. This person then receives updates after each session outlining the tools which have been used and suggesting ways of encouraging the child to use the tools in his or her daily life. They would also be asked for feedback on the child’s progress.
The workshops we run with children are still in the area of equine-assisted learning – we do not offer any kind of therapy for specific physical or psychological conditions. There are fully-qualified practitioners who carry out children’s workshops with horses for therapeutic purposes, and we would be happy to advise on the selection of such a professional if needed.