Working with Horses changes lives

We have positive experiences every day at Taking the Reins

We have already seen amazing results for children with anorexia, autism, ADHD, attachment disorder, depression and mental health, emotional, physical, sensory and learning difficulties.

Just recently we have witnessed:

  • a young girl aged 13, diagnosed with anorexia, after only two sessions began to eat properly;
  • a young boy with cerebral palsy, aged 8, managed to relax his overactive body and to still his limbs when close to the pony. He has gained greater voluntary movement in one arm as he grooms and strokes the ponies;
  • a young autistic child, aged 4 would typically avoid both touch and speech, readily reached out to cuddle a miniature Shetland pony and is now calling out as the pony approaches;
  • a young man with Downs syndrome became increasingly confident and vocal as he learnt to lead and control a horse much larger than himself.

 Here are some more ways in working with our herd has helped:

Cameron's story  

Cameron is a young boy who has experienced a lot in his life, now living with his grandparents after experiencing a turbulent home life and challenging situations with his birth mother and her partners. In Cameron’s initial sessions he struggled to listen to instructions. Safety was a big issue as he was very impulsive and often ran around, into and under the horse. He often struggled to slow down and engage in the here and now often being in a fantasy world of his own creation.

Slowly he started to see the horses as other living animals and treated them with respect. He enjoyed using his fantastic, creative mind and excelled at designing mazes, obstacle courses and jumps for the ponies. In these activities he found a way he could slow down and listen and create something with the pony’s view and safety in mind.

Cameron’s grandma commented on how teachers were noticing a massive change in behaviour at school and how this experience had made a huge and positive difference in his behaviour and, she felt, in his happiness too.


Paul and Moby

Paul a five year old boy with autism benefited greatly from his time at Taking the Reins, his Mum noticed an increase in Paul’s confidence and communication. Paul enjoyed the sensory work on our horse called Moby. The first day he tried it he lay still for over five minutes just stroking the horse, the sensory work was especially effective because it had a calming relaxing effect on him.

Tackling Obstacles

Jodie, a 16 year old girl, was referred to Taking the Reins by Child and Adult Mental Health Services with emotional difficulties. Jodie was involved in a whole range of activities like Obstacle Alley, where Jodie built obstacles that represent challenges in her life and then negotiated these challenges with a pony using only a head collar and a piece of string. When the pony became reluctant to cross certain obstacles the facilitator asked Jodie to reflect and talk about what was happening, Jodie recognised that these were metaphors for her own communication and emotional challenges. The programme has helped Jodie to open up more to people and talk about her difficulties and her confidence continues to grow as she now works on the project as a volunteer.


The Fredrick Family

After hearing about us through their family social worker, Lynda was delighted that there was an opportunity for her family to attend sessions at our Family Saturday. Her son John had suffered an accident which resulted in brain damage and the rest of the family were finding it hard to come to terms with the changes in John's behaviour.

After the sessions Lynda explained that working with the horses had helped John to understand the feelings of others and developed his empathy skills. The sessions had been a chance for the whole family to work together as a team and this had really helped John’s siblings as well as giving them an incredible and therapeutic experience.


The Jandu family 

The Jandu family were introduced to us by their Family Support Worker from a local Children's Centre. The family had recently been bereaved, losing a family member suddenly and unexpectedly. The whole family were deeply saddened and finding it hard to come to terms with their loss.

None of the family had any previous experience of horses and were very nervous. From the first session it was clear that the family worked very well as a unit, supporting and encouraging each other in a very loving way. Over the sessions the family’s confidence grew and even the grandchildren were able to communicate positively, make decisions about where to lead the ponies. They worked well together with challenges such as asking a pony to move backwards.

At the end of each session the family openly talked about their experiences and current situation as they worked through their Jandu Family Journal together. The family discussed fond memories that they each held about the person they had lost. They said they found the sessions very therapeutic helping them to express their feelings and focus their mind on what was important. 


Bella’s Story

When Bella was introduced to the project we were told that she finds it extremely difficult to communicate to anyone outside her home and that she may "tune out, glaze over and refuse to move". Bella did just that on her initial visits to the project, she would not speak to the Facilitator and appeared to close down. Gradually that changed, Bella began to groom and follow instruction. She picked Olivia as her preferred horse and started to speak to her, in a whisper to begin with, then to call her from the gate. Bella has now become more active and mobile; she helps around the yard doing chores like feeding and mucking out. She is also problem-solving, using her fine motor skills to fasten and unfasten buckles and clips and putting on and fastening her own hat with the aid of a mirror. Bella’s Personal Assistant, who supports her every week, is amazed at her progress and her family came to visit us during the school holidays to see for themselves what wonderful progress Bella has made.


Mark and Paul’s Story

Mark and Paul are twin boys with learning difficulties and ADHD. They had a particular challenge with being in groups and crowds of people so we ran a session where they could work on their own initially. Over a few sessions we introduced them to other children and they started to work alongside them in small groups. The boys were taught how to take care of the ponies, clean up after them, feed and groom them. The repetitive exercises helped the boys to learn and practice safety around the ponies.

The boys’ confidence and communication skills developed working with the horses and they were able to take part in both a summer camp week and in a visit to Clougher Valley Show, where the whole Taking the Reins group had a great day out. Mark and Paul's dad said: "The boys have really enjoyed coming to the project and have become more confident and are trying to be more responsible in the house which is brilliant in such a short time."