The Circle of Horses Youth at Risk Project - Youth on horse

Barbara E. Auerbach; Alisha O’Dell – The Circle of Horses Youth at Risk Project

Our program of adaptive riding provides youth at risk a means of enhancing physical, mental and emotional health. We want our participants to work on cognitive issues without realizing that they are gaining self-confidence, trust, and better communication skills.

The goals of Youth-at-Risk project include enhancing social skills, increasing awareness of other people’s feelings, learning to be honest with one as well as with others by taking responsibility for ones behavior, learning personal control, managing stress, anger and frustration, increasing communication skills, and building positive relationship foundations. The project is designed to create an atmosphere where youth-at-risk, who struggle with relationships and authority, are able to accept a horse’s honest, non-judgmental presence and eventually learn to be honest with themselves as well as others. It is very difficult to manipulate a 1000-pound horse physically or emotionally. It takes training, trust, patience and respect to get a horse to back up, turn on its haunches and follow cues will on the ground or being ridden.

We use adaptive riding to teach cognitive skills, as well as physical skills. We use ground work with horses to establish nonverbal communication between participant and horse. The most beneficial purpose of groundwork is to establish oneself as the leader. Teaching groundwork, in a non abusive atmosphere shows the horse that we can control his movement, so that he accepts us as his leader. Horses should be led in a manner that encourages them to walk beside the leader¹s shoulder and speed up and slow down in response to the leader¹s body language and rhythm. These are all exercises that build and strengthen self-confidence in our participants.

The project is a unique opportunity for our school districts and our community to provide a healthy, organized community based activity for at risk youth. Recently, The Circle of Horses offered a small group of at risk youth an opportunity to work with horses. It was a great success. Our program is geared toward teaching skills through the use of equine specialists. The program will collaborate with the school districts, counselors, and horse specialists to teach skills, such as acupressure, and anatomy. Students will learn “dressage” as a structured discipline because it helps to improve motor coordination, organization, and planning skills.

The most important lessons learned are those of self confidence and self esteem. These are life changing developments that encourage good relationships, better study habits, and an acceptance in the community. Futhermore, the program also offers the community the opportunity to become involved as volunteers enhancing socialization and communication skills with our participants.

The initial seed grant from TPP enabled this writer to complete training as a Certified PATH Int’l riding instructor. It was possible, once the certification was completed, to go out into the community to seek resources for an arena, horses and insurance to run an adaptive riding program. The community response was so overwhelming that we went from two participants the first month to twenty-seven participants in less than four years. We will have close to forty participants by years end.

The Circle of Horses operates in a small, rural area with few affordable services offered to the community. The initial seed grant was the first step in obtaining 501(c)(3) nonprofit status that allowed us to write grants and receive donations so that we are able to offer scholarships when needed. There is a need in our community to provide programs for youth at risk. We will now be able to partner with the Fort Bragg School District to provide an adaptive riding program using our staff, volunteers, and equine therapists to offer a unique curriculum during the school year and as a summer program. The award also establishes a basis to seek ongoing government grants for youth at risk programs.

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