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West Pinchbeck riding school's unique programme to give young people a brighter future

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Horses are playing a key role in a unique educational programme to help young people overcome their problems and move onto a brighter future.

Children and teenagers who struggle in mainstream schools or who are on their ‘last chance’ are being given the opportunity to transform their lives at Four Winds Accessible Riding Group.

The West Pinchbeck riding school is supporting The British Horse Society’s Changing Lives programme which combines the development of life skills and educational achievement while working with horses.

Jacko with Kirsty Sweeney, Liz May and Paula Leverton
Jacko with Kirsty Sweeney, Liz May and Paula Leverton

The programme provides an ‘alternative pathway’ for five to 25-year-olds who are disengaged with education, have special educational needs or at risk of social exclusion.

Accessible Riding Instructors Kirsty Sweeney and Liz May launched the programme in September with riding school owner Paula Leverton. The first batch of teenagers have blossomed thanks to the programme and, of course, their bond with the ponies.

Kirsty (44), of Market Deeping, said: “For some of these kids, we were last the chance but we have seen some really positive changes.

Jacko with Kirsty Sweeney, Liz May and Paula Leverton
Jacko with Kirsty Sweeney, Liz May and Paula Leverton

“Some of them have been isolated from their peers for years and are finally getting to mix with people of their own age group and are forming friendships while building their confidence and working in a team.”

Liz (41) added: “People have gone from being scared of their own shadow to happy, bright and chatty individuals. They are poles apart from the people we first met.”

While the syllabus follows the National Curriculum, all learning is linked to horses and their care, such as learning maths while weighing out feed.

The programme, which is open to people who have been or at risk of expulsion and children who are in care, also focusses on six life skill areas including relationship building, communication, confidence, responsibility, teamwork, and interestingly, perseverance.

Jack and Will
Jack and Will

Kirsty said: “Horses are great to teach perseverance as quite often things don’t go right first time. You have go think why it didn’t go well and go back.”

Liz said: “A lot of the young people on the course have come from challenging environments or have been through something difficult. They are going to need more grit.”

The course takes between 30 and 40 weeks with the opportunity to extend depending on the requirements of the individual taking part.

Students - who don’t have to come from an equine background - work through the three levels and complete a series of workbooks and practical sessions.

The course looks at lunging, handling and riding skills along with rider fitness.

As well as working towards a recognised qualification, time with the horses also helps to build confidence - and providing ambitions for the future.

Kirsty, who has worked in social care, said: “Horses are not threatening. Some girls have come from an environment where they feel that they have been judged and horses just don’t care about that stuff.

“Horses can start a conversation but it can go anywhere.

“I love being a part of this programme and watching the young people grow and achieve things.”

Having worked in business for many years, Liz is finally following her dream career of working with horses.

She said: “It is nice to be building people up and helping to improve their lives after working in an industry which places a very low value on the people that work in it.

“But some of the skills from my previous life have come in useful. For instance, one of the girls has an idea for a business and we are making a plan to make that happen.”

l There are still places available on the course with opportunities for funding available.

Anyone can refer an individual to the course whether it is a parent, school or social care provider.

For more information on the Changing Lives course - or to apply for a place - call 01775 640533 or email paula@fourwindsequestriancentre.co.uk

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