Wordless Wednesday: it’s here

Yes, I’m still processing this, but receiving confirmation that I passed my courses and am now a certified professional has helped.  Opening this envelope was a very proud moment.

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Wordless Wednesday: equine therapy

Following my previous explanation of equine assisted learning, something great popped up on one of my Google Alerts.  The below infographic is a fantastic demonstration of what equine therapy is and what it can be used for.  The organisation I volunteer with doesn’t currently offer riding as part of any therapy, but as it grows, it is something which is in the plan, if appropriate for a given participant.

So if you’re still uncertain, take a look at this infographic.  Please feel free to share and let me know what you think!

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Open for business

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for me!  I haven’t had time to write a full blog post today, so I thought I’d give you a peek at the events I helped put on last week.

The Equine Partners open days were a great success – lots of people came to visit us, there was a huge amount of cake consumed, and our visitors were very generous with their donations in return for said cake.  It’s now onward and upwards to make the most of the summer, getting lots of sessions in and continuing the good work that we do…

Here’s our yard looking busier than it ever has before!  We normally only see one family at a time (all images are clickable to enlarge)

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Kira made some new friends!  I promise she didn’t eat anyone…

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Prince and I were teaching a student and ended up doing a demo I was very proud of!  He tried really hard and gave me some great things

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I did some demo sessions as well, here’s Kira doing some teaching about obstacles and communication

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And finally, we took the opportunity to have a photo shoot – here’s Prince and me posing shamelessly

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Hope to be back on track next week!

Equine therapy demystified

I’ve been trying to write this post since I blogged on my retirement and change of direction back in March, but for one reason or another, I kept getting stuck.  I also intended to post this as part of my equestrian content… then remembered that equine therapy isn’t about equestrians, and that I should be attempting to reach my mainstream audience, so here we are.

The reason I’ve kept putting this off is that it’s a subject which is very important to me, and I was frightened of not getting it across correctly.  But I’ve spent the last few days explaining what equine therapy is (as I’ve started a new job and everyone wants to know why a childless 28-year old only works part time), so I’ve honed my description a little further.

I like the term “equine therapy”, although it’s not conventionally used within the industry as a descriptor.  The more accurate term is Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) or Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP): the problem with EAP is that it can sound frightening, and the problem with EAL is that nobody knows what that means – they even get stuck with “equine”, because they’re so bamboozled by the words which follow it.  So I’ve started saying that I’m a trainee equine therapist (rather than an equine assisted learning facilitator – how pretentious!  And what a mouthful!) – the only occasional snag with using equine therapy as a term, is that people think I’m treating horses.  But that’s usually easily recovered.

So I say that I’m training to be an equine therapist – that it means I help people using horses, and that’s true.  In a nutshell, that’s what we do.  Experience and training have led us to develop a selection of games which we can play with our clients and the horses, in order to subtly teach various things.  Horses act as a mirror for people, and teach the required lessons in a non-confrontational and non-judgmental way: rather than being told by a therapist that someone is a bad parent, or has caused a problem, the horses demonstrate how a person’s actions impact someone else, which communicates the message in a friendlier way.

We don’t teach people to ride, but they do handle the horses: sessions with us typically start with grooming, in order to allow everyone a chance to calm down (visitors tend to arrive with a lot of energy, whether it’s excitement or nerves!) and get used to being in the company of the horses.  Groups will undertake exercises such as building an obstacle course and ultimately leading a pony sympathetically around it, or having to shepherd a pony into a box without touching it, but sometimes all that’s needed is for the parents or carers to unload and the children to run around in a safe open space.

Sometimes, there still isn’t an awful lot of science to what we do, and part of that is due to the fact that you can’t control the reaction you’ll get: I spent about eight weeks doing the same exercise repeatedly due to the number of new clients we received, and I haven’t yet seen two groups react to it in the same way.  So as a therapist, it’s fascinating work.  It’s a puzzle for us too, figuring out what someone needs in order to get the help they require.  Watching the horses teach just by being horses is fun, and I often wonder how I was ever effective as a horseperson and as a human being before I knew what I know now.  Somehow, I managed, but I know I’ve improved since switching gears, and the fact that I’ve improved is what motivates me to help other people.

I knew a long time ago that I would never make a doctor, nurse, dentist, policewoman, fire fighter or any other traditional “helping” career.  It’s taken me a long time to match my favourite activity with a desire to help others, but I’ve found the answer, and hopefully it’ll keep taking me to places I had no idea existed.

Open for… everyone!

I mentioned previously that we’re having some open days at the charity I’m working with, Equine Partners CIC (new website still in the works!), so I thought I’d share some more details!  Behold, our lovely flyer:

EP open days flyer

If ponies and cake aren’t enough to entice those from far and wide, how about this: we’ll be running demonstration sessions, open to anyone who shows up – once we have enough people, we’ll head into the paddock with one of the horses or ponies and play, so that you can see what would happen were you or someone you know require our services.  These sessions always start with you grooming the pony, so there’s plenty of hands-on horse time and a chance to make a new furry friend.

During the breaks in mock sessions, we’ll be doing some horsemanship demonstrations, a kind of “here’s what’s possible” deal… this is the part where I’m supposed to show off a bit, though what I’ll be able to show on the day is anyone’s guess!  Prince currently quite likes going sideways, so perhaps we’ll do some pretty leg yielding from the ground, who knows?!

On top of that, we’ll have a tack sale, some competitions (my ideas are currently: guess how many horse treats in the jar and guess the weight of the horse – sadly, you won’t be winning the horse as is traditional with cakes, but we will have a cuddly toy to win!) and, most importantly, the chance to talk to the team about what we do, why we do it and why people should be involved.  We’re predominantly currently raising funds for a new extra large field shelter to keep our herd cosy over the winter (I know, summer hasn’t even begun, but you have to think ahead!) and ensure that their field stays in good condition.

If you’d like more information, contact details are on the flyer above, but anyone is welcome to attend, just show up between the above times and say hi.  We can’t wait to meet you!

Double dose

As I’m still waiting to get a start date for my new job, I’m trying to make the most of my empty days in other ways.  Fortunately, horses always need looking after, so I made two trips to the yard last week instead of my usual one.

Tuesdays are the charity’s “development day” – a day earmarked for the horses to have some “fun” work, and to have any necessary maintenance such as visits from the vet or podiatrist.  I really like this concept – it’s a lofty ideal for many bigger businesses, but my friends are in a position where they’re starting fairly small, and I think that as they’ve started the habit now, it should be something they can maintain.  The horses do also get a full day off – absolutely nothing is demanded of them on Sundays, when they are fed and cuddled and left to their own devices.

So Tuesdays have been my regular day for getting to know Prince and putting him through his paces.  Last week, we worked in the barn for the first time.  There’s no arena at the yard, and for most of the year working in the field is fine (in fact, it’s good for the horses and humans, as it gets both used to focusing on work rather than the footing), but due to the recent wet weather, we’ve now reached the point where it’s really not fun to slop around in the field trying to achieve something.  Fortunately, there’s a small barn which was formerly just used for storage, but has a beautifully thick straw carpet, and houses all sorts of equine toys and obstacles.

Prince worked well in the barn, though we both got in a slight muddle when I tried something new and we weren’t too sure how to accomplish it.  This happens quite often when I try to take a new step, and it’s just a case of going away, thinking about it again and trying something different.  I think it’s that I need to break it down a little more, but it could’ve also been down to our mood or the environment being new.

I went back on Thursday, which is a session day for the charity.  Those aren’t something I can discuss – therapy is different to teaching people to ride, and whereas I don’t mind writing vague posts about things I’ve done or learned whilst teaching, it’s not appropriate when it comes to therapy.  I will say, though, that it’s a great thing to be a part of.  Watching the clients and horses work together is very rewarding, and it’s an exciting part of my future.

I’m not qualified to properly assist, but I can fetch horses and move equipment around.  One of my main jobs last week was to entertain the pony who wasn’t working – the little mare was restless in her role of being present but not receiving any attention, so I took her out of her pen and had a little play with her.  I’ve worked with her on line before, and she’s great fun because she’s very energetic and expressive.  I moved her around for a while, giving her a few things to think about before putting her back to give us both a break and me a chance to continue watching the ongoing session.

As I had one eye on the session, I kept the other on the resting pony, and was a little alarmed when she seemed to flop onto the straw!  I was concerned that she might not be feeling great, although I hadn’t over-exerted her, and it was clear that she wasn’t having a roll.  Fortunately, she just went to sleep.  In fact, it was a very deep sleep!  I was quite flattered, not only that I’d managed to exhaust her so completely, but also that she felt comfortable enough with her friend working nearby and four people in the barn with her that she was able to lie down and sleep – a very vulnerable position for a prey animal.  And best of all, she was no longer trying to clamber over the fence and disrupt the session.

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Prince came in for a play between sessions.  His owner hadn’t seen me with him before, so it was interesting for her to watch us.  She commented on how well our relationship seems to be coming along, which was nice.  The weather constantly changing and occasionally howling outside proved to be a slight distraction for Prince, and keeping his focus was the usual challenge.  It’s very important to him that he feels safe, and when you put new things in front of him, he still doesn’t always remain calm, so that’s a big thing to work on as we continue to progress.  But it’s great for me not to have to be hauling my feet out of the mud every time I want to take a step!

Although work is necessary and I’m looking forward to starting my new job (hopefully soon!), it will be a shame to potentially lose the horse time I’ve been fitting in.  But the days are getting longer again, and hopefully the fields will get drier and therefore slotting horses around my job won’t be as much of a mountain to climb.  I’ve also got my fingers crossed that, rather than telling her friends how exhausted she was, the little mare will have mentioned that I was a lot of fun – the last thing I need is for them to be reluctant to work with me!