Letting the horse be a teacher: One Arrow Equestrian uses horses to help children at camp

Jodi Schellenberg
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Most children’s camps give them a chance to have some fun away from their family but One Arrow Equestrian has a different way of looking at camp.

The centre puts on cultural and leadership throughout the summer for children, using horses to teach them skills.

“It is a combination of using equine assisted learning -- working on the ground with horses, to work on things such as teamwork and leadership and helping the kids understand,” program director Koralie Gaudry said. “The horses help them to understand what their style is and how to improve it and gain some insight into themselves in a team and the difference they can make using the horses.”

The youngsters do a lot of work with the horses -- Gaudry said three-quarters of their time is spent with the horses.

The horses are really the teachers, she said.

“We have our trained people facilitators but the horses do the teaching,” Gaudry said. “They work with the horses, using in a group of two students to one horse.

“The horse provides feedback to them based on their body language or their interaction,” she added. “They are really intuitive animals. They need to be for their survival.”

For example, Gaudry said, if someone were to walk up to a horse aggressively, the horse would sense that and react by stepping back, putting its head up and looking at the person defensively.

“They show them signs with their body as a reaction or feedback to what they are getting with the kids,” she said.

The human facilitators will then step in, asking the child why the horse reacted and what can be done to put it at ease.

“They learn to realize what the horse is doing is a reflection of their actions,” Gaudry said. “They learn to gain some insight into their behaviour and how that impacts others.”

There are different skills someone needs in order to help the horse interact with them, including patience, awareness and leadership.

If the skills are used properly, the horse will work well with the person.

“It is helping student become aware of that,” Gaudry said. “It is pretty powerful to see when they figure it out for themselves, the 1,200 pound animal they are working with really becomes a friend and works with them and those kinds of things.

“We use a lot of metaphors like ‘If you can get a 1,200 pound animal to do this for you or you can get over this fear, what other fears are 1,200 pounds in your life that you could get over?’”

It is a unique way to teach leadership skills because it is not adults telling teenagers how to do skills -- it is by trial and error with the horses.

“They figure it out for themselves pretty quick by what the horses are saying,” Gaudry said. “Lots of times they look to us for answers like, ‘How do I do this?’ or ‘What do I do?’

“We leave it to them to figure out because we really believe here that people have their own answers -- they just have to find them within themselves because sometimes we get lost and look for answers or approval from someone else.”

In addition to working with the horse, the rest of the time is spent doing cultural activities, including aboriginal games and cultural crafts, such as birch biting.

Although most of their camps are full, Gaudry said there are still some spaces left in their Aug. 5-7 camp for 10-14 year olds.

“We get a wide variety of kids coming and it is kind of neat to see them -- at the beginning they are pretty shy but two hours later they are all into it together,” Gaudry said.

To register for camp, people can call 306-423-5858 or email ideal@baudoux.ca.

“There is no riding experience necessary -- they do not ride the horses actually,” she said. “It is all ground-based work with them. They will learn about them, but there is no riding.”

For more information about One Arrow Equestrian, visit www.oaecidealprogram.ca.

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