Retired racehorses give students a reason to strive for success

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A group of Busselton Senior High School students recently swapped class work for farm work during a horse-based program to reignite their enthusiasm for learning.

The six boys, aged 12 to 16, spent time with former racehorses at Chris Scott’s Horse Vision Centre doing a program called EASE (Equine Assisted Student Education) involving groundwork, team activities and horse care.

“They were amazing. Whatever their attendance record is at school, they turned up here every week and we talked about how to build confidence and deal with frustration,” Chris said.

“When one of the horses had a hoof infection, the boys were picking up his feet and helping with medication. It takes real confidence to get under a horse and lift their feet.

“They did free work in the round yard, connecting with the horses and getting them to move over poles or play with a ball.

“The idea is to listen, set boundaries and direct their energy in positive ways to achieve something.”

Students learn to work with horses in a round yard

The boys helped with tasks on the farm, such as servicing the horse float and a quad bike – then earning the sweet reward of using it to collect wood to make a campfire and toast marshmallows.

The costs of the program were supported by the Off the Track WA Community Fund, which will also support a girls’ program in October focusing on socialisation, stress and behaviour management skills.

Horse Vision has been running equine assisted learning and therapy courses for 25 years. The centre has been a mental health award finalist and EASE is a WA education-endorsed program.

“Youth is our main focus and our purpose is to help people and horses have more fulfilling experiences of life,” Chris said.

“We explore possibilities for careers in the equine industry, such as having a farrier visit to give a demonstration and speak to the boys.”

BSHS Student Services Program Coordinator Ross Ligtermoet, who accompanied the boys, said the benefits flowed through to the school environment.

“Most of the boys displayed improved relationship skills by being able to understand their own behaviour and how it affects others around them,” Ross said.

“One boy improved his behaviour out of sight for the duration we were running the program and I was surprised by the leadership skills another displayed.

“Although he wasn’t a big personality, the other boys respected what he had to say, which really showed back at school.

“The way Chris adapted the course to meet the energetic needs of the students was awesome. They needed structure and giving them an overview of tasks and the carrot of the quad bike worked well.”

Student reflections completed after the course showed the boys enjoyed the experience and gained confidence, with retired racehorses Specks and Mr Darcy mentioned as favourites.

Busselton Senior High School Student Support Coordinator Dee Shade added that the results had been positive and practical, with the students showing improved school attendance and engagement.

“Students tell me the Horse Vision program is the best thing they’ve done. They feel more confident, more accepted for who they are, and they now have goals for their future,” she said.

“I’ve been involved in many youth programs with the centre over the years and many students went on to work placement in the equine field, some securing paid employment in the horse industry.”

Susan de Ruyter