School seniors brought a group of 9 pupils from their 16+ class who were studying an Animal Care course. Sessions with us were aimed at covering the physical and practical aspects of the course as well as giving the pupils an extra-curricular experience aimed at building self-esteem and confidence, widening experience, and building essential life skills. The sessions also provided students with a chance to take part in an enjoyable physical sporting activity which most would not have the opportunity to do otherwise.

On the first week the pupils arrived excited but a little nervous and unsure. One girl had recently had a cochlea implant and was unable to wear a hat so was unable to ride. Another pupil was unwilling to ride, though we tried patiently for a while. These were a very chatty group of pupils who enthusiastically asked simple questions and were eager to look around. We therefore spent the first stable activity time looking around the stables so the students could familiarise themselves with their surroundings. They were introduced to some horses over the stable doors, and all were happy and willing to stroke them with adult support.

Over the following weeks the students grew steadily in confidence and listened carefully to what they were told. Part of the course they were studying involved recognising, naming, and correctly using various grooming brushes. The stable activity therefore concentrated on this. Some pupils remembered while others needed constant reminding. They were all able, however, to perform the task of grooming correctly with support. Some students had fleeting concentration, but others were happy to perform the task for a while. Staff from the school took many photos as records of the activity the students performed. These will be used in the records of achievement and as part of the course work.

In the first week the pupils were understandably nervous when first mounting the horses. Some students had limited language skills and so found following the verbal instructions hard. However, with a great deal of support and patience they were able to perform the task and soon relaxed once sat on the horse. For most students, their fear was soon replaced with euphoria once the horse began to walk and by the end of the ride, they were all smiles and pleased with their achievements. Each week they mounted more swiftly and began to talk fondly about the horse they rode. The students began to gain confidence and self–esteem.

It was decided, in consultation with school staff, that on 2 weeks we would also include the carriage, allowing students to experience a different form of horse transport. They all thoroughly enjoyed this experience. Also, because of the length of time it took to get each group onto the horse, their ride time was shortened so school staff suggested that each week just one group ride and the other group take part in stable activities. This allowed for greater time to complete stable activity as part of the school course work.

Unfortunately, on one week one student fell ill (possible epileptic fit ) and the ambulance had to be called. This therefore disrupted the session and the other students had to be taken upstairs and be kept occupied. They behaved impeccably and busied themselves with colouring, looking at books and talking about their Christmas show. The boy returned the following week un-phased by his experience and eager to take part again.

This block of sessions proved beneficial to the students in many ways. They enjoyed a sporting activity and the therapeutic nature of animal contact. They enjoyed the practical aspect of learning and the chance to try a new sport. It allowed them an opportunity to practice their social and life skills and meet new people. The school staff were very complimentary and thanked us for making the project possible. They are planning on returning with the same group of students in the springtime to complete their animal care course (next time focussing on animal care, such as mucking out and feeding, rather than grooming) as well as riding.