Ponies go into north London school to help vulnerable pupils

  • A north London school has drafted in horses to help provide post-Covid mental health support.

    East Finchley’s Archer Academy, a community secondary school, has been trialling equine-assisted therapy for vulnerable pupils.

    The school funded three sessions with equine therapist Lotte Carlebach, who brought in ponies to help students interact in a “mindful way” and help develop their self-awareness, communication skills and empathy.

    A spokesman for the school said it takes students’ mental health “incredibly seriously” and has successfully applied for grants to supply a number of initiatives, which also included broadening school counselling provision, running art therapy sessions, training senior students to become peer mentors and training staff to become mental health first-aiders.

    The school believes the equine therapy has already had an impact on pupils’ wellbeing, and is now hoping to raise money to fund more sessions.

    Senior assistant headteacher Jo Mahoney, who is spearheading the programme, said: “Covid-19 has been hard for everyone, but it’s fair to say that some of our students, particularly those with learning difficulties or complex emotional needs, have struggled more than others.

    “We are determined to do everything we possibly can to help them settle back into school life, and overcome the trauma of the last 18 months, and equine therapy is a brilliant solution.”

    Jo added that it had been “wonderful to watch the students interacting with the ponies” at the 800-pupil academy.

    “It has a truly calming effect on them, which is just what they need after the upheaval of the last year or so,” she said. “But it’s more than that; Lotte is also teaching them about the ponies’ herd dynamics which supports them to navigate the group dynamics they encounter at school. For students who don’t find this easy or instinctive, and who have spent too much time isolated at home, this is a brilliant way to learn.”

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    The school is now hoping that the wider community, or people or organisations within the equine world, might help them raise the budget to continue the programme.

    “We’re keeping our fingers (and hooves) crossed,” Jo added.

    Anyone wishing to offer financial support can email Angela Hay at Ahay@Thearcheracademy.org.uk

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