The experience of volunteering with equine assisted therapy is completely different to anything I have done before.
I choose to volunteer with SLTH while completing my masters applications for Mental Health Counselling. I wanted therapy experience, but set outside a typical therapy setting.
Previously, much of my experience has been working with young people within schools and specialist institutions. There, a lot of the changes in behavior and learnt skills are revealed after months of work. Here weekly, I witness young people able to learn greater interpersonal skills and how to have more positive interactions with their peers, through their work with horses.
Typically I work two days a week, with two different groups of young people. I have greatly enjoyed the contrast of working with these two different groups. With one group, much of the focus is on coping with anxiety, building self-reliance, team work skills and reading others. This contrasts nicely with the behavioral needs of the other group. The skills fostered through working with the horses are very relevant for both sets of young people, even though they have significantly different needs.
At SLTH, you have the unique opportunity to work closely and learn from many very experienced people. I have observed the different approaches staff members take for teaching and motivating clients. I am also able to observe class planning. By observing staff plan session activities and assign tasks, I have learnt a great deal about the unique reasoning behind various activities. I now understand the importance of pairing a specific horse with the unique needs of a client.
Through this close mentoring relationship, I am able to notice the challenges and changes in the behaviors of clients. I am then able ask tailored questions to help clients reflect on their own behavior and experience. By volunteering with such experienced professionals, I am able to learn quickly, in a hands on environment which feels effective and exciting!
I am extremely impressed by the significant changes the young people we work with experience, from when they first arrive at the stables, to the end of their session.
I've never seen therapy have such a positive impact so quickly!
Even during just one short session the change in a young person’s self-confidence can be momentous. Since working closely with young people on the spectrum, and with emotional needs, I have seen the different ways you can combat their daily communication difficulties, by working with horses.
I have found it powerful to witness the humbling effect horses have on behavior. Horses are great mirrors for our insecurities and intolerances. This quality enables people to confront areas they struggle with, in a safe, manageable environment. The power of communication without language, for people who may struggle with communication through language, is quite profound.
I would highly recommend to anyone looking for clinical volunteer experience to apply to Strength and Learning Through Horses. You get to work alongside a team of highly experienced, fun and caring individuals, and have a hugely positive impact people’s lives! And of course the best part of all.....you get to work with horses! I couldn’t recommend it more.
I AM A YOUNG WOMAN IN HER 20S WHO HAPPENS TO BE ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM.
I also happen to be a long-term sufferer of Depression which I am sure many who read this can relate to. In my past, I have felt lonely, hopeless and anxiety-ridden. Relationships with family and friends were practically non-existent and I didn’t have a strong connection with anyone I knew; This can be made worse when you feel completely unable to communicate effectively enough with anyone around you!
Verbal communication comes as a struggle and a challenge for me, and it is exhausting. I may not LOOK like I’m struggling, but I always am. It’s called “Masking”. It’s what some people on the spectrum do to ‘blend in’ with society so we can be deemed ‘sociably appropriate’ because let’s face it... No one wants to feel like they’re a burden, do they.
When I found a friend that I don’t need to chat to or make small-talk with, when I found a friend who allows me to communicate with them without feeling frustrated, confused and utterly and completely exhausted, my world changed!
I realised that I could have someone close to me who wouldn’t zap away my energy. I felt free, relaxed and able to finally have a social interaction that didn’t hurt my head or make me upset and angry out of pure confusion, and didn’t have me second-guessing if my actions were ‘sociably acceptable’.
My friend lets us use body language as our main form of communication; This allows me to understand our interaction without having to guess any hidden meanings that can come with conversations I have with neuro-typicals1. I was introduced to my friend in 2016 and we have slowly learned to trust each other and build a happy, stress-free relationship.
MY FRIEND IS GHOST THE HORSE!
She has helped me learn new, easier forms of communication; She has helped me see that I can learn to interact with my peers and form healthy relationships with them and my family.
To this day, though, Ghost is the only one who I feel I have a strong emotional connection with. She doesn’t need to ask me questions or guess how I’m feeling; She knows, and she understands.
She helps me re-charge from social exhaustion, she helps me feel human again. She helps me feel alive.
And trust me, when you feel like you are all alone on this god-forsaken planet... You need a friend who helps you the way Ghost helps me.
*Name changed for anonymity