A new programme designed to encourage children to ride horses for their emotional wellbeing has started in Whanganui.
And it is having a significant impact on the children taking part - and on the Whanganui District Health Board and Jigsaw Whanganui staff responsible for running it.
The health board's Infant, Child and Adolescent Mental Health and Addictions Service (iCAMHAS) and Jigsaw Whanganui have joined forces to deliver therapeutic horse riding and basic horsemanship skills to children and young people with emotional and behavioural difficulties.
Called Riding Experiences Inspiring Next Successes (REINS), the programme is run by social worker Stephanie Robinson and Jigsaw equine specialist facilitators who are helping the children develop their social skills and emotional awareness through horse riding.
iCAMHAS clinical manager Janice Bowers says it's wonderful seeing the way children and parents/caregivers communicate and celebrate a child's new skills.
Other benefits for children enrolled in REINS include:
•Learning to reflect on how their behaviour affects the horse's behaviour.
•Providing a safe space for those finding it difficult to form relationships to practice their social skills.
•Learning to trust.
•Learning practical skills which help boost the child's confidence and self-esteem.
•Reducing stress levels in children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
•Taking responsibility, demonstrating empathy and building relationships with horses while brushing and caring for them.
•Learning to problem-solve.
"While REINS was established back in 2014, it's wonderful knowing that more children can access it now that Jigsaw and iCAMHAS are running it together," says Ms Robinson.
"Until iCAMHAS came on board the programme was only available to those children being supported by Jigsaw social workers.
"iCAMHAS has a history of successfully using animals to work with children. Our therapy dog Bentley has been a huge success with children experiencing communication difficulties so to work with horses was a natural step for us to take."
"There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man." - Winston Churchill.