Pupils will be horsing around with new riding initiative

Helping out in the stables Hope Wood Academy students, left, Harry Hudson, 10, Tom Paylor-Bent, 10 and Washington Riding Centre education support officer Tracy Steel with Archie the horse.
Helping out in the stables Hope Wood Academy students, left, Harry Hudson, 10, Tom Paylor-Bent, 10 and Washington Riding Centre education support officer Tracy Steel with Archie the horse.

A new equine therapy programme is helping give a leg up to students with special educational needs.

Pupils from Easington’s Hope Wood Academy are taking the reins as part of a new initiative.

Saddling up, Hope Wood Academy student Nathaniel Sullivan, seven.

Saddling up, Hope Wood Academy student Nathaniel Sullivan, seven.

The academy, which caters for children aged two to 19 with severe and complex needs, has joined forces with Washington Riding Centre for the weekly lessons in horse riding and stable management.

Teacher, Amy Naylor, said: “The impact that the horses have on the children is incredible.

“Most of our pupils have never experienced a horse before let alone ridden one. Even the process of putting on a riding hat or being close to a horse has been a major achievement.

“For others just leaving the classroom is a massive accomplishment so to get into the saddle on their first visit, follow instructions from the handlers and communicate with new people has been amazing.”

The impact that the horses have on the children is incredible

Amy Naylor

Students have a range of specialist needs from moderate learning difficulties to autism, epilepsy and downs syndrome and the equine therapy has already shown benefits in a range of areas including, building a sense of self worth, improving communications and building self efficiency and socialisation skills.

Ms Naylor said: “Some students who may be a bit distressed when we arrive at the stables are instantly calmed by the horses.

“The children absolutely love it and the way that the therapy relaxes them really assists in other areas of the curriculum.

“Some of our more physically able students have been helping with the grooming and mucking out and also learning about stable management from the staff at the stables and two of our older students have been given the role of assisting the younger pupils both on and off horseback.”

She said the initial funding was just for ten weeks, but because the benefits have proved so immense the school is hoping to find the funding to make the equine therapy a permanent activity.

Mum Sally Barber, whose son Nathaniel Sullivan, seven, has communications, autism and hyper mobility issues, said: “Nathaniel finds it difficult to sit still most of the time, but he loves being on a horse and the movement of it walking along really relaxes him.

“We don’t have any pets at home and he’s never really been near a horse before, but he absolutely adores them and I couldn’t believe how quickly he has taken to riding.

“I’ve even noticed that he sleeps much better the day after a riding lesson and the therapy also helps him be much calmer and focused at school.”