Horses helping vulnerable people in Cumbria

15th April 2019

Sometimes a horse is the only bridge between despair and hope.

The amazing bond between human and horse is helping those most in need to feel less anxious.

Safety Net received £4,000 to run an innovative equine therapy project to help victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence work through issues around trust, self-belief and relationships and help rebuild their lives.

Working with the Calvert Trust in Keswick, the Equine Assisted Therapy was offered to 17 clients over 285 hourly sessions as an alternative to office-based therapy.

Lesley Storey, Chief Executive of Safety Net, said: “Clients who enjoyed the therapy reported feeling more positive about themselves and more valued because they’re no longer experiencing criticism or rejection for their behaviour. Where children and young people say that they lack friends, or are not liked, it often reflects their view that they’re not accepted or wanted by peers, which can be their perception rather than the reality of the situation. Equine therapy gives them the experience of developing real relationships and interactions with the horses, which can boost confidence in their ability to form bonds.

“We’ve also seen an improvement in self-esteem and confidence in relationships at home, at school, and, in many cases increased interest in leisure activities in their spare time.”

One young client who engaged extremely well with the therapy worked with a little grey Welsh pony. Due to her previous life experiences, she was quiet and passive and found it very difficult to offer her thoughts, opinions, or even to feel that she had the right to say when she didn’t like something. She didn’t want to engage with any type of traditional office-based therapy because she was worried about speaking with people she didn’t know. That little grey pony played a significant part in her improvement, in all aspects of her life, and she was able to make real change. This was seen in her day to day life, enabling her to go on engaging with, and enjoying, a range of positive and healthy activities.

Lesley continued: “We feel that the equine work played an important part in reducing post traumatic symptoms. Equine therapy can help our clients address difficult issues which they are reluctant to approach directly through counselling. We frequently see clients describing their own issues through their observations of the horse’s behaviours, or in the way that they interact with the horses. They gain therapeutically through this process, as they are able to make more sense of their experiences without becoming distressed by difficult memories or thoughts. The vast majority of clients, and their parents or carers, comment on how much they enjoy the sessions and the feeling of wellbeing they bring away with them.

Safety Net received its first grant, managed by the Foundation in 2005 and has received more than £183,000 in total. The Foundation has continued to support a variety of projects in Cumbria including a grant for £10,000 to provide outreach advice and guidance to relieve the trauma and distress of rape and sexual abuse in Wigton, Aspatria and Cockermouth. Other grants have funded early-intervention work at Whitehaven Academy, providing targeted teacher training, pupil peer mentoring, one-to-one therapy and support and drop in sessions by Safety Net’s specially trained therapists. A more recent grant was towards purchasing a new building in Workington to reduce waiting times, travel and offer more permanent support for people in West Cumbria.