An equine therapy facility that helps children with mental health and behavioural issues has been named as one of five finalists to receive a People’s Projects National Lottery award.
The public vote for the most worthy recipients of the funding opens next month (April), and the London Horseplay Centre is one of just 95 charities nationwide and five in the London area to be shortlisted.
The Hertfordshire-based project teaches Parelli techniques, typically to children who haven’t been attending school — either because of problems such as anxiety or because they have been excluded for bullying or fighting.
Their interaction with horses is used to help them learn to control their behaviour, and understand the impact of their emotions.
The programme, known as the Horse Course, was originally founded in Dorset but was introduced by licensed Parelli instructor Sue Coade at her Barnet yard in 2016.
“The course was very successful in Dorset, where it was used in prisons, and I was invited to go and train with them down there,” said Sue, who has now been running the Hertfordshire course as an official charity for around 18 months.
“All the horses I use are trained to a high level, and the course is groundwork only, no riding. The young people spend 10 hours here spread across five days and we take them through a series of groundwork and liberty tasks.
“Horses are very good at picking up on peoples’ energy and intention — I know my horses can do all the tasks but if a child is suffering anxiety they can be really ineffective and the horse will ignore them or if they have an aggressive energy, the horse will know something is not right and could be worried,” Sue explained. “What they have to do is learn how to be calm and assertive to get the response they want.”
At the end of the week, the participants receive photos to commemorate their achievement as well as a short video.
“Some of them turn up never having met a horse and at the end they’re jumping barrels and doing circles with them,” Sue said.
She explained that the programme, which does cater for some adults, is particularly useful for people who don’t respond to talk-based therapies but do respond to action-based activities.
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“We get some really good feedback and most of them are sad to leave on the last day,” she said. “We do a follow-up two months after the course to see how they are doing, as we like to know how long the changes stay, and we tell them they are always welcome back to visit.”
Voting for the Peoples’ Projects runs from 1-15 April and a short film about London Horseplay will be shown on Thursday, 4 April on ITV’s Six o’clock news in the London region.
All shortlisted nominees will receive a minium of a £5,000 grant but those securing the most votes could collect up to £50,000.
“If the funding was available I would love it if we could offer top-up courses to those who needed them, if after six months the negatives were creeping back into their lives,” said Sue.
“The course teaches them empathy, makes them realise what impact their behaviour has, makes them take responsibility for it, and ultimately helps them change what they are doing.”
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