A couple of weeks ago, as part of hearing some awesome community stories to celebrate Somerset and Somerset Day, I met a brilliant eight-year-old boy called Fin.
I turned up at Somerset Equus, a place I hadn’t been to before, and Fin gave me a really warm welcome, introducing me to all the horses there - Mr Rocket, Poppy, Chance and his absolute favourite, a beautiful horse called George. Here's George smiling!
Fin told me how old all the horses are and I could immediately see that he had a very special bond with George. The gorgeous deep brown horse never took his eyes off Fin and loved to nuzzle in to his neck. With George’s head resting on Fin’s shoulder, Fin explained to me how much of a difference going to Somerset Equus makes to him:
“It makes me happy. I’m more social. When I’m down in the dumps I look forward to coming here”.
Tucked away down a peaceful country lane in rural Somerset, surrounded by fields and wildlife, Somerset Equus is clearly a unique place… and what I’ve just shared with you about Fin is a huge deal too. It’s massive actually, because he didn’t used to speak at all - to anyone. He was excluded from school, he felt completely isolated at his young age and even used to struggle to get out of the car because of his anxiety.
With the help of the Equine-Assisted Coaching offered at Somerset Equus, Fin is slowly building his confidence… and what an awesome job he’s doing. He’s been able to have a friend over for tea for the first time and he was able to talk to me - to share his feelings with someone he’d never met before. That’s not only cool, but it made my heart swell with gladness for this friend I'd just made.
Equine-Assisted Coaching has been explored since the 60’s and as emotive animals and sensitive communicators, it’s no surprise that being around horses can help young people like Fin, who are experiencing social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. All the horses at Somerset Equus are specially trained to help coach the young people who go there and as Director, Emma Langdon, explained to me, there are many reasons why children and young people are referred to them:
“ It might be a one-off traumatic event, or a series of events such as abuse. It might be that they’ve displayed sexually harmful behaviour. Young people can struggle for a number of reasons and the interaction between horses and humans encourages self-awareness, self-reliance and gentle communication, which can be invaluable.”
I saw for myself that coaching young people, and providing professional support and guidance whilst they are interacting with the horses, certainly encourages positive relationships.
Every session at Somerset Equus has a work ethic at the very heart of it too. With their yard, round pen and two paddocks, sessions are normally a couple of hours starting in ‘The shed’ - a homely, informal area with kitchen, games and seating, ideal for structured chats and discussion. The small groups or one-to-one's then move outside, with dedicated time spent working directly with the horse crew!
Emma explained that having this work ethic as part of each session, helps to build resilience and gently encourages young people to find their own ways of managing reactions to their thoughts, feelings and emotions - far better than directing them, or telling them how to think! The horses also inspire new ways of thinking and that helps massively with self-esteem. Fin had such an increased sense of self-worth compared to the way he told me he once was, and the work Emma and Martha (her business partner) do there, means that children who struggle to fit in to mainstream schools have a real chance to find a different way.
Somerset Equus, working together with young people, schools and Youth Offending Teams, genuinely understand the challenges faced by some young people. The confidence they help to create means that children, like Fin, don’t just fall by the wayside. In the words of another young person who’s worked with Somerset Equus:
“Even though bad things have happened to me, you’ve helped me smile and laugh again. I can still have a good life”.
For us, that’s definitely something to be celebrated and something for the young people there to be tremendously proud of. It was a privilege to visit Somerset Equus, to meet Fin and to be able to share a tiny amount about the life-changing work Emma, Martha and the beautiful horses do in the heart of the Somerset countryside, every day.