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The Four-legged Teacher

Education and Therapeutic interventions through Alpacas, Horses and other animals. By Heather Watson, Wiltshire Equine Assisted Learning.

Eight years ago I was rapidly approaching middle age with two small children in tow and was the happy owner of 4 fluffy ponies. I was working as a Specialist Nurse and Educator in Palliative Care which I had been doing for well over a decade.

After the death of both of my parents within a short space of time, I felt that I needed a break from death and dying, or at least some space to clear my head, and what better place to do this than hanging out in the field with my faithful and attentive animals. It was at this point that I suddenly came across a course that offered training to become an Equine Assisted Learning Facilitator and this caught my interest. A way to combine a desire to help others, use my communication skills and be with my animals – perfect. Before I knew it I had enquired, signed up, and completed the training and found myself opening Wiltshire Equine Assisted Learning. I was offering a new service, full of enthusiasm, but not really having any idea who might want to visit us. One middle aged woman and four fluffy ponies in a field with a sceptical customer base! What did I have to offer and would it really work?

Fast forward eight years and Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) or Learning is rapidly becoming a more accepted part of education and therapy packages for children and young people needing alternative education provision or therapeutic interventions to support their mental health. It is also an accepted way to provide support and development for people including veterans, people in recovery from addiction, people with dementia and so many others in need.

My own company – Wiltshire Equine Assisted Learning – has developed over the years to become an Education Provider. We see around 70 children and young people each week (not just me any more – I have a brilliant team now thankfully) and we also run groups for people with dementia. The results and feedback we have had from our work has been incredible and in response to this the demand for the service has exponentially increased. We have moved from the sceptical customer base to people who believe in and endorse our provision having seen first-hand what it can achieve. In fact, two of my staff now work for the company having met us through bringing their children to attend sessions with us – an endorsement indeed.

We have moved from the sceptical customer base to people who believe in and endorse our provision having seen first-hand what it can achieve. In fact, two of my staff now work for the company having met us through bringing their children to attend sessions with us – an endorsement indeed.

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