Primary school brought a group of 8 junior aged pupils for a block of 6 sessions in November. The pupils in this group all had additional needs and were on the School SEN Register. Children had a range of difficulties and disadvantages including mental health problems, learning difficulties, developmental delay, social/emotional problems (low self-esteem and confidence) and Physical Developmental delay. Some pupils were in care and from disadvantaged backgrounds and one child was registered as an EAL student (English as a Foreign Language).
The Head teacher had chosen these pupils carefully with the hope that the sessions would deliver many nurture objectives including improved confidence, well-being, calmness, and improved behaviour. One of the main aims was that children should be proud of their achievements and experience an activity which they otherwise would never get in addition to simply having fun, enjoyment, and a positive time. Most of these children have chaotic and difficult lives and the benefits of involvement were thought to be immense. Taking part in the activities and then talking about the experience back in school would also help with language development.
This group of pupils arrived on the first session excited but unsure what to expect. They simply wanted to look around to begin with to familiarise themselves with the new environment. They asked many questions and were very curious. They listened carefully but needed instructions given in a simple manner due to poor language ability or audio memory skills. Most of the pupils were a little nervous to begin with but were able to follow instructions, with support, and mount the horse / pony. One pupil was “terrified” the first week but managed to eventually mount the pony and take part in the hack. After a few steps around the yard all pupils were able to sit relatively relaxed and confidently. After the hack all returned to the yard smiling and happy. By the end of the block of 6 weeks all children, including the one who was terrified on week 1, had grown significantly in confidence. Over the 6 weeks the pupils had a combination of hacks out and lessons. The younger children enjoyed simply riding out and experiencing the movement of the pony, the interaction with staff members and the opportunity to see the countryside. The older ones in the group enjoyed the lessons most, with the challenges and the chance to learn a new skill (steering and stopping the pony and trotting).
All members of this group enjoyed the riding part much more than the stable yard activities and were keen to ride for longer. They did, however, listen to instructions and take part in the activities positively and without fuss and retained some knowledge at the end of the block of 6 weeks. They remembered the names of the main brushes and could use them appropriately and they were able to work together, sharing equipment when necessary. They especially enjoyed using the wheelbarrow and tools to collect droppings around the yard and were able to take turns in the variety of roles.
By the end of the 6 sessions the Head teacher reported several benefits for the pupils involved. Some skills had been improved, such as coordination and gross motor and children had become more confident. For the lower academic ability children, who struggle with classroom learning, there had been a chance to succeed in a practical skill which had led to them feeling proud of their achievements. This was invaluable in raising their self-esteem. Some of the pupils had improved their behaviour as they worked towards the goal of reward at the end of the week. For all pupils, the sessions had provided a therapeutic activity as they enjoyed having time and space away from school and life’s problems.
The benefits of the sessions for this group of pupils have been immense. Assessments done in school have reflected this (Boxall Profiles, well-being scale assessments, learning behaviours, attitude grids and curriculum assessments). The main way in which this can be improved on is to give longer blocks of sessions. All the pupils were keen to engage in the sessions for longer periods (“forever”) and continue learning more and building more skills. They all wanted to learn to ride independently and to master the rising trot which 6 weeks did not give them the chance to achieve.
These pupils were a delight to work with and the Head teacher is very supportive of our work and is willing to be a working partner with us in the future.