Racing retirees help kids apply Horse Sense to their lives

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Many children dream of having a horse but Claire Wright went further by gathering an entire herd when she grew up and then helping the dreams of others come true.

Claire’s Horse Sense enterprise gives horse-based learning sessions to children to boost their wellbeing, supported by the new Off the Track WA Community Fund.

“I’ve loved horses ever since I can remember but could never own one as a child. When I got my first job, I bought a gelding who had retired from racing,” Claire said.

“Over the years, that horse taught me the most incredible lessons about relationships, resilience and life.

“Now my husband and I have a farm with about 50 retired racehorses. Among them was the one who started it all, living his best life with the herd, until we lost him recently at almost 30 years old.”

Claire introduces a Horse Sense student to one of the herd

Claire, a primary school teacher and equine facilitated learning practitioner, was among the first to receive an OTTWA Community Fund grant, which is being used for programs to help children navigate life’s challenges.

Working with a South West school, Claire holds small group sessions to give students learning experiences with horses which develop into skills and strategies to manage problems or situations they may encounter.

Related: Off the Track WA Community Fund

The activities are about engagement and learning, rather than riding, so the age and ability of the horses is irrelevant.

“The sessions focus on what the horses can teach us, not what we can make the horses do,” Claire said.

“We value horses living naturally because our sessions are based on participants becoming familiar with natural herd interaction to learn about self awareness and become familiar with strategies and different ways to approach life for more positive experiences.

“Many of the children have had nothing to do with horses before and it’s lovely to see how they connect with the horses, big and small, in the paddock.

“This week they’ve been meeting the herd, looking at how it’s regulated and what keeps the horses calm. They learn to maintain a calm state and stay present and aware of their surroundings so they can choose how to respond rather than reacting to situations.

“They had horses all around them and it was great to see their willingness to put themselves in that situation.

“Next week we’ll do some grooming activities, learning how a horse’s body language communicates what they like and don’t like and how we can respect that.

“Each week has a different theme which links to their work with the horses and each session ends with a check-in and card on what they learned.”

The effectiveness of the seven-week program will be based on feedback from parents, staff and students.

“The new community fund has helped to make my dream of allowing young people access to this program a reality, so the horses and I can provide the life skills to help them achieve their dreams too,” Claire said.

Susan de Ruyter