Michael, a service user with Hampshire & Isle of Wight CRC, has transformed his life with the help of Herd Wisdom, an equine therapy programme run by Tower House Horses.
Tower House Horses is an established equine assisted learning facility, situated in the heart of the Hampshire downlands where co-directors Susie Little and Jo Simpson share a lifelong passion for horses combined with a wealth of business experience.
Tower House Horses’ Herd Wisdom programme consisted of two pilot groups, courtesy of HIOW partner 3SC’s innovation grant funding. The objective was to show that equine assisted learning has a positive impact on service users’ levels of self-awareness, confidence and ability to regulate their emotions.
Michael, who had struggled with his mental health which had led to his conviction, was introduced to Herd Wisdom after completing the Building Better Relationship (BBR) course run by the CRC.
He was engaging well with his supervisors but experiencing the effects of his ongoing mental health challenges. It was felt the therapeutic nature of equine assisted learning would be of benefit for his sense of wellbeing and to help with emotional regulation.
Michael travelled by train from Aldershot to Micheldever each week. He attended all six sessions – 14 hours in total – over a period of six weeks. Each session built steadily from a gentle introduction to the herd and surroundings, to establishing close connections with the horses through ground-based, guided activities. Interaction with the horses provided the opportunity to examine habitual responses to situations and explore alternatives.
Michael’s level of confidence in his ability to connect with the horses grew week by week. Michael gained insights into his communication style and found he was able to adjust to be more patient or more assertive when required, without losing his connection with the horse. Michael also worked well in partnership with other participants and proved himself to be sensitive to their needs. He believed that the confidence he gained was something he could carry over into his everyday life.
Michael’s love of animals and appreciation of nature made this a uniquely memorable experience for him. A major contributor to the success of the programme for Michael was his openness and willingness to learn, and his recognition of the fact that he was being given a unique opportunity in the Herd Wisdom programme. He showed commitment by his consistent attendance each week and was keen to share the experience with others on the BBR programme and at his wellbeing centre. He also spoke of how the programme complemented his use of mindfulness techniques.
Michael said: “I have gained more self-confidence in the six weeks. When I am feeling down I will think of the horses and ponies. They are very therapeutic and calming. This was a unique, magical experience.”