Horses teach life skills at fair


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When one hears about horse-centred learning, riding often comes to mind.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/04/2022 (359 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When one hears about horse-centred learning, riding often comes to mind.

What instructor Kim Richardson teaches isn’t a riding program. She offers an equine assisted learning program at Lucky Break Ranch and Tack, where everyone is on the ground and on the same level with the horses.

And the purpose of this program is to teach what Richardson calls “armour of skills.” Among them: resiliency, confidence, focus, leadership, communication, choice, empathy, teamwork, problem solving and boundaries.

Animals have been vital to therapy programs for their calming effects and teaching people about empathy, teamwork and healing trauma, Richardson said. In this case, it’s trained horses.

“If you are on the horse’s back, you are the boss, telling it what to do. In this program, when you are on the ground working with this 1,500-pound animal, it is your teacher, so you are on the ground working with them,” she explained.

They have multiple programs tailored for different outcomes: women’s program, youth, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, people with depression and/or anxiety, abuse survivors, and a new men’s program for those dealing with abuse trauma.

Activities in the programs include obstacles, problem solving and trust exercises.

“You need to show the horse you are the leader and if you don’t they won’t work with you.”

This program helps people sharpen skills they use in everyday life and in their jobs. Once completed successfully, participants get a certificate proving they learned these skills.

Assisted equine learning appeals to a lot of women, but they also attract a lot of children and youth either looking to get involved in life skill development, anti-bullying or are dealing with trauma and mental illness. Richardson said they do work with a lot of at-risk youth in Child and Family Services.

Richardson started this program after enduring several abusive relationships. With her background, she said she wanted to develop this program to help others heal from their past, regain confidence and empower themselves.

“I can relate to that with women and men who are dealing with that kind of stuff.”

The program was being showcased at the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair throughout the week. Each show featured different activities and challenges where volunteers from the audience worked with the horses and each other to complete equine-related tasks.

In some of the exercises, participants were blindfolded.

“We love to put people on the spot for this and having people get involved to show how this program works,” Richardson said. “Some come in nervous, but everyone leaves happy and confident.”

All the while, presenters talked to the participants and audience about equine facts, like a horse can feel the magnetic field of a person’s heart from up to three feet, so when a person is near a horse, it can feel their energy and determine their mood.

Horses are also social animals, like humans, and need to be with other horses to survive physically and mentally. Herds are also hierarchical and challenges to the hierarchy are put down quickly.

Tabea Hofer and Monique Marais, both 16, volunteered to be in the Friday afternoon show, working together in the same group.

A few challenges they worked through included “ground tying,” where the person releases the lead rope to let it dangle to the ground, then walk gently around the horse to encourage it to stay in one place. Another involved getting the horse to walk over poles, or a tarp.

By the end, both said they were happy they volunteered.

“I’m proud of myself. I didn’t know I was capable of that and I’m glad I made the decision to go in,” said Hofer. “I was surprised how simple it was, even though I know they are a lot of hard work.”

Marais said the most challenging part was making sure she stayed beside the horse at all times. At one point she had to turn the horse around and she got in front of the horse and almost knocked heads with it.


» Twitter: @karenleighmcki1

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