A South Australian horse-centred wellbeing program has been helping children with disabilities cope with their anxiety and overall health.
Heartfelt Support’s Horse-Centred Wellbeing program is hosted at a rural Chandler’s Hill property and run by Anne Drury-Godden, who describes watching those with a disability interact with animals as a life-changing moment.
“A well-treated horse is emotionally attached to humans; they are intelligent and can gauge and change your mood. They are highly social. For children or adults, meeting a horse can be an exciting and highly anticipated event, whether you’ve been around them before or not“, says Anne.
“Ironically, that excitement will quickly give way to a sense of calm and ease. Being around horses just reduces anxiety for a lot of people. Horses don’t judge you or offer any comments, ours are just glad to share time with you.
University of Lincoln (UK) studies, among others, have shown that interaction with horses can lead to increased levels of empathy, and along with that, an overall reduction of what the experts call ‘maladaptive behaviours’ – things like self-injury, withdrawal, lack of cooperation, aggression, and destruction of property – particularly in people with Autism Spectrum Disorder. And the benefits can last for days or weeks afterwards.
The vast majority of participants are on the National Disability Insurance Scheme and many have complex needs.
Anne explains, “We don’t call it therapy, that places too much expectation on everyone concerned. Our program is based on having good quality support workers supporting participants and also having safety staff. It also costs far less than therapy rates, which can really eat through someone’s NDIS funding. “
When children take part, some of the parents and guardians find it quite enjoyable as well. “Too often, whoever brings the child has to sit in a waiting room reading a magazine from last decade. Here, they get to sit under a tree with a cuppa and watch what happens, or even take part. We’ve had them tell us they get the same anxiety reduction as their kids.”
According to Anne, a strong belief at Heartfelt Support is that a client needs to get benefit well after a session is finished and this idea was built into the program.
“One of the unique parts of our program is we supply some merchandise to each participant to keep them connected in between visits. This is really effective for kids in particular; having an ‘I’m a friend of Astro’ sticker on their lunchbox or using their Horse Adventure journal is a constant reminder of being on the program.”
“And you don’t have to have a specific disability – or any disability at all – to benefit. We have just launched our Free-Range Horse Kids program to offer the same benefits to the wider community.
The weekly program is currently almost completely full, but new session leaders and horses will be coming on line in the next two weeks.
To find out more, head to the Heartfelt Support website.