A Taranaki programme is using equine friends to teach valuable skills.
Horses Helping Humans Taranaki, Hōiho Hāpai Hapori is a licensee of the Horses Helping Humans programme developed by Sue Spence in 2006.
Lead facilitator Laura Menzies says the programme uses a trauma-informed approach to teach body awareness by pairing a young person with a facilitator and a horse.
"By interacting with the horse, young people learn how to adjust their body language and breathing to regulate their emotions, improving their assertive communication skills and self-confidence."
Facilitators work with individuals or groups of up to four, host whānau and team building workshops, and staff training for professionals who work with teenagers.
"We work with a lot of people."
The programme started in March 2020.
"We purchased the licence to run the programme for the Taranaki region. We had our first pilot in March and then other sessions in May and June with S.T.A.R.T Taranaki clients and staff."
In 2021, with support from the Toi Foundation, Lottery Taranaki Committee, and the New Plymouth District Council, Horses Helping Humans Taranaki, Hōiho Hāpai Hapori was able to offer 48 funded placements for youth agencies and schools across Taranaki.
"In total last year, we worked with 75 clients. We worked with agencies such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of Taranaki, YMCA, Stratford Teen Parent Unit, Oranga Tamariki, S.T.A.R.T Taranaki, and Tui Ora.
"The schools we worked with were Stratford, Hāwera, Inglewood and New Plymouth Girls' High Schools as well as Coastal Taranaki School, Spotswood and Francis Douglas Memorial College."
Laura says Te Ao Māori was incorporated into the programme to make it more relatable for Aotearoa's taiohi (teenagers).
The flow of the programme intentionally aligns with a pōwhiri, and the programme itself has an optional additional component called Te Ara Whakamana which is "a circular framework that uses the Māori creation story, colour, imagery, narrative and cultural metaphors".
"We then incorporate the Atua (gods) from the Te Ara Whakamana model into the programme. For example, we channel feeling like Rongo-mā-Tāne (the protector of crops and also the god of peace) when we are interacting with the horses."
She says specific horsemanship exercises that involve no riding are used to teach taiohi how they can adjust their breathing and their body language to keep themselves calm, improve their assertive communication skills and enable them to make good decisions when under pressure.
"Taiohi also learn about Sanguine, Phlegmatic, Choleric and Melancholic personality temperaments and the default body language that each displays when under stress."
This year Horses Helping Humans Taranaki, Hōiho Hāpai Hapori is aiming to work with 200 clients.
"Thanks to the Toi Foundation we have some funded placements available to offer taiohi from across the Taranaki region.
"The Lindsay Foundation has also given us funding for Te Ara Whakamana, three two-hour sessions and two two-hour refresher sessions for a total of 12 taiohi from Hāwera High School, Coastal Taranaki School, and Devon Intermediate School.
"This is appreciated and means we can track whether including the refresher sessions has even better outcomes than running just the normal sessions."
Each taiohi is paired with a hōiho (horse) and a facilitator for either two three-hour sessions or three two-hour sessions. Two of the ponies taiohi can work with are Basil and Reggie.
"They're cheeky but loveable, friendly, well-behaved ponies."
Laura says by working with the ponies, taiohi learn how to adjust their breathing and learn skills to help handle stressful situations.
"When interacting with a horse, you need to be calm, confident and assertive. When taiohi interact with their horse in this manner, not only do they achieve success when their horse completes the task, but they can also feel a difference inside their own bodies. It's a powerful learning experience."
She says it helps young people by giving them the tools to enable them to problem solve and so they can respond to different situations in a way that keeps their mana strong and other people's mana strong.
"For example, they're learning how to use their body language to communicate clear boundaries to help them stand up for themselves if they're being peer-pressured, and also how to be clear-minded and calm in other situations."
With funding from the Toi Foundation, Laura says they have purchased a horse float.
"This means we can deliver the programme all around Taranaki to eliminate the barrier of travel."
Laura tracked the outcomes for the 2021 funded clients and noticed there was an improvement in self-confidence, emotional regulation, assertive communication skills, self-awareness, awareness of others and mental well-being.
"We have proven results with anxiety, aggression, low self-confidence and youth justice. We tracked the client's outcomes for three to six months after the sessions and saw amazing sustained improvements."
Laura says feedback from referrers has been very positive.
Special education needs co-ordinators Shelley Cook from Coastal Taranaki School says the programme is pure gold and she would not hesitate to register their taiohi again.
"We certainly have no hesitation in recommending this programme for any taiohi from other learning establishments who require some support in bringing out the best in themselves."
She says while any taiohi would love and benefit from it, it is particularly beneficial for those who are struggling and are more vulnerable.
"We run a range of very supportive programmes for our students at school with brilliant staff and fabulous outside facilitator support, however, we don't have the capacity to emulate the uniqueness and power in the same way that those sessions did."
She says the response to this programme was like they had seen before.
"Our students absolutely loved Laura. she is a truly outstanding mentor with a very high level of emotional intelligence and a genuine love and passion for her horses and the taiohi who she works with."
■ For any queries regarding funded places, or for more information email Laura: firstname.lastname@example.org. To donate please visit https://givealittle.co.nz/org/horses-helping-humans-taranaki-hoiho-hapai-hapori.