Equine therapy charity appeals for £5,000 to feed their horses during pandemic
- Credit: Archant
Strength and Learning Through Horses was started by Hampstead psychologist Dr Jemma Hockley to help disadvantaged young people, but needs to pay for hay during closure
A charity, started from a Hampstead kitchen table, is appealing for help to feed their therapy horses who work with vulnerable young people.
Equine charity, Strength and Learning Horses, started more than a decade ago at Kentish Town City Farm but moved to stables in Edgware when they expanded.
In normal times, they cater for around 300, disadvantaged 8-25 year olds from Camden, Barnet, Islington, and Brent.
Clients range from pupil referral units to special schools such as Swiss Cottage and The Tavistock’s Gloucester House in Belsize Park.
Now the small charity is struggling during the pandemic and appealing for £5,000 to help care for their horses until they can start offering therapy again.
Hampstead Garden Suburb-based founder Dr Jemma Hockley says: “We charge for some of our services and our funders give money for sessions delivered, so we can’t use it for hay and horse feed.
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“With the pandemic, we have all the capital costs and paying stable staff, but without being able to see children.
“Our oldest horse Percy has gone back to his owner, but we have eight to look after. What we achieve here is because of the horses, they are specialist animals who have to be safe and responsive but not agressive. Protecting them is the most important thing. Without them we can’t operate.”
The young people are referred by social workers, mental health services or educational psychologists. Some are from mainstream schools, some are in care, but Dr Hockley say they don’t ride the horses.
“The children don’t necessarily have significant learning disabilities but a complex presentation of challenging behavour, difficulties in their family, or early trauma,” she explains.
“If a child has been damaged it can impact on their development, they may struggle at school or with social relationships.”
Working with clinical psychologists while caring for and training the horses, these vulnerable children start to understand themselves and open up.
“They won’t engage with talking therapies, but getting involved in caring for the horses, learning to be with them and helping them develop into the best possible horse in a quiet, calm, safe space, allows them to talk about ways of the horse coping with struggle - when they are really talking about their own experiences.
“When they come to us, they can’t engage with adults and find it difficult to describe how they feel. But the horses help them communicate and through them we can explain to them how they are feeling.”
After moving from Kentish Town it was vital for the charity to stay close to their client base. But inevitably running a stable so close to London is costly.
“There aren’t any stables in Hampstead and Highgate and we needed our own space but we have no grass here and buying all our hay and feed is an incredible cost,” says Dr Hockley, who is asking anyone who knows of a field where they could turn the horses out to get in touch.
In the meantime she and charity partner Rosie Edwards, whose education programmes empower disengaged, vulnerable young people to develop employment skills, worry that without their sessions, young people’s mental health will slip.
“We are seeing our most vulnerable clients over Skype but many don’t have the ability to focus on a Zoom call. We know the stables will be busier than ever once we reopen.”
Dr Hockley says their work, partly funded by the NHS, underpins core mental health services and acts as “a stepping stone back into the community.”
“Success for us is a young person who might have dropped out of education, finding confidence and re-engaging with their school or starting a college course.
“Or someone who hasn’t left the house because of their anxiety and mental health who has managed to make friends, go back out into the community and do things that normal people take for granted.”
Further details at strengthandlearningthroughhorses.org
Donate here goldengiving.com/fundraising/feedthehorses