Horse power reins in troubled Camden teens

Long touted for their physical prowess, horses have been an essential aid to humans for centuries.

One Camden charity has taken this one step further with unique therapy sessions in which horses help troubled teens work through some of their problems.

Students who have been expelled from schools and referred to specialist educational facilities visit the stables once a week to take part in group activities and problem-solving exercises based around their interactions with the animals.

Equine therapy was first practiced in the United States, and its arrival in the UK is fairly recent.

Clinical psychologist Dr Jemma Hockley, who lives in West Hampstead, is one of the first doctors to introduce the technique in London.

In the past five years her charity Strength In Horses, which run sessions at Kentish Town City Farm, has got off to a galloping start.

Dr Hockley, who wrote her thesis on equine therapy, explained horses are very responsive to humans, which is why the technique is effective.

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“The idea is that horses respond to a lot of non-verbal communication and they’re very responsive and also quite wary animals,” she said.

“We use the horses’ communication as feedback for what the students are doing, and how they’re coming across.”

At the weekly sessions, Dr Hockley and her colleagues assign tasks such as bringing the horses across the arena without the use of guide ropes or reigns.

This requires cooperation, planning and problem solving - and the outcome is often a wider discussion about behaviour and group interactions.

Sometimes the large horses can be overwhelming, but this too is an opportunity for discussion, Dr. Hockley explained.

“The students are scared sometimes, but then we work with that and that’s all a process of seeing how these young people cope with being scared about stuff, and how they use each other for support,” she said.

“The responses we’ve had from the sessions have been tremendous.

“And the kids themselves say the sessions help them relax and that they enjoy it. They also say it helps them work with other people. The students all say they want more sessions.”

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