Equine-assisted learning teaches students about caring and listening

Horse sense: Cody Sweet with Maddy at the equine-assisted learning program in Snake Valley. Photo: Luka Kauzlaric.
Horse sense: Cody Sweet with Maddy at the equine-assisted learning program in Snake Valley. Photo: Luka Kauzlaric.

It’s not often that an entire school gets the chance to partake of the great outdoors, learning about the virtues of empathy and thinking about how animals feel.

The students of Cape Clear Primary Have been doing exactly that recently, travelling to Sam Naidu’s property outside of Snake Valley to engage in a six-week equine-assisted learning program.

The program teaches the students about social, leadership, problem-solving and communication skills and how to put these into practice.

Sam Naidu says her program teaches the students the importance of observing how animals might think, feel and behave. They then translate that into observations about their own behaviour and feelings.

“We explore a topic, and what the horses can teach us about that topic,” says Ms Naidu. “Today was about awareness, getting themselves to be aware and how horses model that.”

The students get to lead a pony around a course, seeing how her behaviour affects the way they feel –wanting to go another direction or stop and eat – and how they react and feel about coping with the responsibility of having to keep leading her.

Student Marley Lowther-Curley says she identified with a horse named Beauty, because of her shy nature.

“At my old school, because there were so many people there – when she tried to come over with the other horses, she just stopped and went back, and that’s what I used to do.”

Principal of Cape Clear PS Sam Irwin says the program is a chance for the children to reflect on their emotions.

“From what I’ve seen, the care and handling of the animals is just one part. It’s using what they see the animals do and how they interact to reflect on their own behaviour. It’s good for kids who can’t do that particularly well themselves. We have the view that behaviour and learning to control your emotions is teachable.”

As if to prove just how easy and valuable is it to learn empathy, Cody Sweet, another student, goes up to Marley at the end of the session, asking carefully, “So Beauty felt doubt, like you did?”