This November, as part of National Anti-Bullying Week, groups of London school children have been working with shire horses in London’s Hyde Park to learn the skills to contain and challenge bullying behaviours.
More than 60 pupils from two London schools, Archbishop Tenison’s School in Kennington and Westminster Academy in Royal Oak, have been taking part in a three-week pilot project funded by the Royal Parks Foundation, in partnership with one of the country’s leading Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) therapists, Dr Andreas Liefooghe.
Many of the children have never come into contact with a horse before. During the weekly sessions, based on principles of Equine Assisted Learning, which is widely used in the USA, pupils experienced guided observation of horse behaviour and learned to interact with horses through touch. They work in groups to lead horses along a trail, learning how to communicate with the animals in non-verbal ways, as well as learning team work skills. The main aim of the programme is to teach teenagers cooperative group work and inclusion, rather than competition and exclusion.
“Humans can learn a lot from watching horses,” says Dr Andreas Liefooghe. “There is a tendency in a herd of horses to stick together, whereas in human groups, there tends to be fragmentation in sub-groups and cliques. The first task all students face is how to create a mixed human-horse herd. The horses are obviously different, and outsiders – so the group has to manage to integrate them despite their differences.
"Week by week, we build confidence in the group by setting them further challenges. For example, once there is cooperation we can introduce competition. But the students will see that this type of competition is very different in nature from the chaotic place where they first started to compete, driven by fear. So in many ways, we are teaching students through the horse work how to turn fear into work and, on the way, how to increase your tolerance for frustration."
Teacher Ian Funnell from Westminster Academy says the project has been a positive experience for three groups of pupils taking part: “The activities with the horses have broken down some huge barriers for some of our students. They have had to think about and change their approaches to some tasks, understanding that their behaviour is a big influence on how the horses interact with them. It has been lovely to see some members of the group, who were initially very tentative about being near the horses - let alone touching them, being comfortable enough to work with them in an unfamiliar environment.“
Find out more about our learning programme in Hyde Park.
25 November 2014