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The benefits of therapy on the trot
10:21am Wednesday 4th September 2013 in Features
Homeless people from the Arc Light Centre who spend time at stables ride out for a lesson with owner Kathryn Maclean
Homeless people at Arc Light are being introduced to a range of activities to help them rediscover a sense of purpose in life. STEPHEN LEWIS joined a group for a horse-riding lesson in York.
THREE riders are walking their horses around the parade ring at Cottage Farm Stables, just out beyond Heworth. In the centre of the ring, the riding school’s owner, Kathryn Maclean, is calling instructions.
“Beckie, you’re going to trot!” she calls to the rider at the head of the group, 27-year-old Beckie Harris.
Beckie kicks her piebald mare Dolly into a gentle trot. “Look up!” instructs Kathryn. “Keep your hands down! Good! Well done!”
It could be any riding lesson at any riding school. Except that the people learning to ride here today aren’t perhaps your usual riding school students. They are all homeless people, staying at either the Arc Light or Peaseholme hostels in York.
The lessons have been funded by the Ride Yorkshire Foundation, which aims to help young people and adults enjoy the fun of riding and looking after horses.
And these lessons are just one of a host of activities that Ian Bretherton, Arc Light’s active learning promoter, is organising for homeless people at the hostel.
There is something special and very therapeutic about horses, he says – and contact with them is great for people whose lives haven’t been all that easy.
“It’s about confidence, it’s about taking up a challenge, it’s about a sense of achievement when you ride a horse for the first time,” he says. “But it’s also about the sheer joy of it.”
For 28-year-old Daniel Nowell, a chef who found himself homeless after the breakdown of a relationship, and who has been at Arc Light for 17 weeks, these lessons were the first time he has ever sat on a horse. It was quite daunting at first, he admits. “They’re big!”
But he loves it – especially helping to look after the animals, grooming them and clearing stones from their hooves. “We used to have dogs when I was young,” he says. “I used to look after them.”
He’d never trotted on a horse before today. But soon enough, under Kathryn’s watchful eye, he has urged his horse into a gentle trot around the ring. His beaming face says it all.
Some of the other students are more experienced riders. Beckie, who has been at Arc Light since January, admits she rode a little when she was young, at a farm near Evington where she grew up.
Her face is wreathed in smiles when she gets down off Dolly at the end of her ride.
“That was great. I loved it!” she says. “It makes me feel like the old me.”
The most natural rider of all turns out to be 32-year-old Sarah Brigham. She was a keen horsewoman when she was younger – “I started riding when I was about 11 or 12” – and it shows. She sits in the saddle with an effortless, practised grace, urging her black to a trot and then a canter, and then unsaddling him herself in the stables afterwards.
She ended up homeless after her partner had problems and they fell into rent arrears.
“We went down the homeless route, through the Salvation Army,” she says.
They were in Arc Light for several months, and are now at the Peaseholme, with hopefully a place of their own not too far off.
As well as riding here once a week, Sarah helps out at stables near Pocklington once a week as well, in return for a ride there. “I love it. I’d do it every day if I could,” she says.
She’d love to be able to work with horses, she admits. “So I’m hoping that something will come out of this for her,” says Ian.
But something has already come out of this experience for all the Arc Light and Peaseholme residents taking part in these lessons. A bit of self-belief; and the chance to do something some of them could perhaps only have dreamed of.
“One of them told me afterwards she couldn’t believe she had been sitting on a horse,” says Ian.
From horse riding to walking the dog
The horse-riding lessons at Cottage Farm Stables, funded by the Ride Yorkshire Foundation, are among a series of activities being organised for Arc Light residents by Ian Bretherton, a former head of Alne Primary School, who later went on to teach in prisons before joining Arc Light last year.
Ride Yorkshire is a social enterprise which works to increase access to the countryside on horseback and to expand participation in riding.
“We’ve arranged riding for disadvantaged children and adults in Hull, Leeds and York so far, and we’d like to expand our activities,” says Janet Cochrane, a director of the enterprise. “We raise funds through organising pleasure rides and horse-holidays in lovely areas of Yorkshire, whether people have their own horses or not. “We find that our outreach work is hugely popular and the contact with the horses seems to give people more confidence – we’ve inspired several youngsters to go on into a career with horses, for instance.”
The aim of such activities is to build confidence, teach a range of skills, and give Arc Light residents a sense of purpose in life again.
Other activities include:
• community sports leadership courses
• dog-walking for the RSPCA
• football at the York St John University sports hall
• conservation projects with the Forestry Commission as part of the John Muir Environmental Award Scheme
• look good, feel good sessions for female residents
Ride Yorkshire can be phoned on 01759 368303 and 07583 451825 or contacted by email on firstname.lastname@example.org
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