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Long Sutton teacher and her ponies are heading to schools to help support youngsters' learning

A former headteacher is combining her two passions of education and equines in a new venture.

Rachel Hartopp is taking her two ponies, Solo and Bunny, into schools to support youngsters’ learning.

Since launching Berryfields Animal Assisted Education and Consultancy, Rachel has been working with a number of schools, but is also hoping to branch out to work with other age groups as well.

Rachel Hartopp with her ponies Solo and Bunny, who are making a difference to school children (17562879)
Rachel Hartopp with her ponies Solo and Bunny, who are making a difference to school children (17562879)

Animals have been proven to help support children’s learning along with increasing motivation, well-being and improving negative behaviour.

Rachel (42), of Long Sutton, said: “I am really interested in the impact animals can have on well-being, mental health and education.

“They can also have an impact on attendance and lifelong learning.

Bunny goes through the obstacle course(17562881)
Bunny goes through the obstacle course(17562881)

“Earlier this year I just decided to take a leap of faith and try to join my two passions of education and equines together.”

With 19 years of teaching experience under her belt, Rachel has put together packages of a number of visits over a year.

All of her lessons are in line with the National Curriculum and the Early Years Framework. She also provides reports for teachers as well.

Solo the Shetland(18490831)
Solo the Shetland(18490831)

Solo, a Shetland pony, and Welsh Section D pony Bunny, who is a former riding school pony, are proving very popular with youngsters during the sessions.

Rachel said: “The children at one of the schools were really excited and it is nice see.

“Some of them were really overwhelmed as they had not been that close to a pony before.

“When we drove away, some of the children walked along the playground following us.”

During the sessions, Rachel teaches the youngsters about horse handling, grooming and other ground work, while also bringing in topics like maths.

The sessions will build up to an obstacle course which will be designed by the children.

Rachel brings along all of the obstacles and also has the task of building them.

She said: “By going into schools, we take away some of the barriers for children with additional needs.

“For those children who are disengaged, it is always beneficial.

“I like to see children be the best they can be and recognising that there are no limits. You can achieve if you set your mind to it.

“Seeing the interactions between children and the ponies is sometimes quite overwhelming and we are getting good feedback from parents.”

Rachel is hoping to add her donkey Betsy to the educational team along with her dog.

She is also hoping to work with domestic abuse survivors along with people who have dementia.

Friday Bridge Primary School headteacher Sophie Foston said her pupils loved a visit from Solo and Rachel.

Mrs Foston has also praised the team for the difference they have made to her son Finlay (10), who has autism.

She said: “It is lovely to see him being successful and having the interactions with the ponies which he doesn’t have with people.”

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