Horse Care Program successfully teaches youth empathy

The NCNS Youth Horse Care program during Term 4, 2019 provided an opportunity for young people to learn new skills and experience the value of volunteering in the community. The need for this type of program arose from an NCNS Youth employment survey that showed young people from the local area had a prominent interest in animal care.  In addition, the high suspension rate, and the experiences of Joe and Sami, NCNS Youth Workers, in working with young people in the community, showed a need to provide opportunities for building empathy skills in our young people, and what better way to do that than by creating opportunities with animals? This program was held at the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) in Richmond facilitated by Volunteer Coordinator, Wendy Brooks.

The primary goal was to provide the young people with an understanding around empathy by learning to understand the needs and feelings of another living thing while at the same time, help them to develop news skills and to raise their confidence levels.

During the program, participants were able to identify the horse’s behaviours and feelings through the horses’ body language. They also learnt how to lead and groom a horse, cleaning, weeding and even picking up poo.  They learnt the importance of each job and enjoyed each new skill that they learnt. Even the not so fun job of picking up poo helped young people work as a team and encourage each other. They were proud that they did it.

A highlight for NCNS Youth Workers, Sami & Joe, was that they could see an increase in the young people’s confidence. “We are extremely proud of Annie* when she jumped on a horse and was led around. For nearly the whole program Annie* would not touch a horse but she totally pushed herself and this was a great achievement for her.”

Volunteer Coordinator from RDA, Wendy Brooks, provided us with feedback around facilitating this program in partnership with the NCNS Youth Team.

“Firstly, I’d like to say that I thoroughly enjoyed doing this with you guys. Seeing the kids overcome their fear of the horse and of being judged by others and seeing how proud they were when they stepped up and completed the activity.

Seeing one of them adopt the helper role in consoling and listening to one of the other kids, teaching others how to do things, and being super supportive to everyone. Almost everyone participated in most things, so that made me happy and I was so proud of their bravery and their good work ethic. I also really enjoyed how polite, responsible and thankful they were.”

Wendy explained, “My intention with this program was to provide free access to equine therapy in a way that encouraged community participation and socialisation in a safe and friendly atmosphere, that also benefited the centre as a not for profit and benefited the centre’s clients/vols . The aims of the program were to provide access to equine therapy to disadvantaged youths, to teach empathy and compassion, to create a positive, safe and fun atmosphere, to foster a team spirit of pitching in to give back to the community, and to boost the kids’ confidence by asking for effort but not more than they could give.

I also sought to teach horse handling skills as a means of confidence booster and doing the not so fun jobs because life isn’t all fun and games. I really just wanted to give them a positive and non-judgemental experience where they could succeed in their own ways and for them to take home whatever it is that they needed from it.

This was seriously one of the best experiences of my life and thank you so much for helping make it happen!”

Although the heat and smoke made the program difficult at times, the young people were able to work past these issues.

NCNS Youth Worker, Joe Benchoam was thrilled about how much the young people connected with the horses. Joe expressed, “When Chris* came over and told me that Elton (horse) liked him and the smile on his face when connecting with the horse, that was priceless!”

Joe also explained, “We know the program had achieved its purpose when facilitator of the program Wendy, was having a bad day and all of the young people opted to not run the session out of empathy and understanding that Wendy having a challenging time. We loved seeing one of the young people try to console her by telling her a story of a time in his life when they were sad.”

The program averaged 7 young people per session and at the end of the program, an evaluation was filled out by the young people who rated the program an average of 9.7 out of 10.

The young people’s feedback about the program was that they were able to learn how not to scare the horse, to be quiet around the horses, read the horse’s body language, facial expressions and their favourite parts of the program was riding, feeding and cleaning the horses.

NCNS Youth Worker, Joe Benchoam, gave us his thoughts at the completion of the program, “Overall this program was hugely successful. It was very hands on, no young people were forced to do anything, which helped the young people achieve something in their own time. For some it was spending time in a different environment, for others it was grasping an understanding of how the horse was feeling or dealing with fear as the size of the horses was quite intimidating.

We are really proud of the young people who participated in this program and we hope that we can run this program again in the future.”

If you would like to speak with the NCNS Youth Team, please contact Joe on 0417 498 918 or Sami on 0408 586 797.

For all youth programs please click here.



*Names have been changed for privacy

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