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HORSE, HEALTH & HOME Inside and Outside Your Stable


Stop the bullying through horses

Equestrians help children learn new ways to cope with bullying By Carol M. Upton “


an’s heart, away from nature, becomes hard; the Lakota knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans too.” ~ Luther Standing Bear (c. 1868 – 1939) In the wake of teen suicides across Canada, parents and teachers are discussing how best to deal with bullying. Programs are being implemented to help both the bullied and the bullies learn different ways of being. The media is filled with tragic stories and the momentum for change has never been more powerful. At the forefront there has been much discussion about the causes of bullying, and the ways in which children, particularly in urban environments, have become ‘disconnected’ by extensive online lives and restricted access to the world of nature and animals. It takes time and space for children to experience nature and animals in a meaningful way and these are rare commodities in our speedy world “The term Nature Deficit Disorder has recently entered the popular vocabulary,” writes Audubon Medal Award-Winner Richard Louve in Last Child in the Woods (Chapel Hill, NC, Algonquin Books, 2005) So, where do we go from here? Can equestrians help to remedy a dire situation in which so many children appear to have never learned empathy for others? Voice for the Horse is a non-profit B.C.-based organization whose vision is to create a kinder world through horses. VFTH promotes fine art projects for children to encourage the presence of horses in our lives. I put the above question to Equine

Therapist and VFTH Founder Yvonne Allen, “One thing repeatedly agreed upon by all the horse people I talked with about bullying is that horses strengthen our characters. We know if more children had access to the lessons, horses teach us so naturally, many more of them would be saying NO to the bully.” At the 2012 Mane Event, Voice for the Horse organized a vigil for victims of bullying. Voice for the Horse has developed other programs to re-connect young people to horses and nature. ‘A Day in the Country for Kids’ was created so that more children can experience a day in the country where they learn about the horse. VFTH also sponsors a ‘Virtues Project’ and an Annual Children’s Writing Competition. Kari Fulmek, a Senior Facilitator in Equine-Assisted Learning at Equine Connection in Calgary, has an active anti-bullying program in place at her facility. “An equine program is one of the most remarkable forms of therapy for a child who is in danger of becoming a statistic,” says Kari. “When children with bullying issues attend equine assisted learning, they show significant improvement in a short period of time. There is something great in these kids and horses help them find it. Horses allow the children to develop a sense of connection that is difficult to duplicate.” Why are horses the ideal animals to help both the bullied and the bully develop such new skills? “Horses don’t pick sides,” Yvonne Allen says. “Both the horses and the children may have had negative experiences with past relationships and are seeking the same thing — trust and connection.” “Young people who spend time around horses quickly learn leadership and teamwork,” Kari Fulmek

says. “A 1,200 pound horse is the perfect teacher. She won’t move just because you tug her halter. She only moves if she trusts you. So the children learn that they obtain the best results by being assertive in a positive way.” Kari cited an example from one of her workshops where a team of two youth were working with a horse named Buddy and were having a lot of conflict between each other. Finally Buddy lay down and would not get up again. Kari asked the team what they thought about that. After

much discussion, the youngsters said that they were not working as a team and had not been including Buddy as a team member. This kind of insight, Kari says, creates life-altering change for children. I asked both Yvonne and Kari how families could access such programs if funds were an issue. Yvonne is developing a Voice for the Horse youth philanthropist program that will enable youth to help others to attend A Day in the Country for Kids. Kari says that Equine Connection has created a non-profit society to

Children learn about empathy while working with Buddy at Calgary’s Equine Connection. PHOTO: SUBMITTED

obtain grant funding that will provide access for schools and families who need it the most. In what other ways can equestrians generally help introduce horses and children? I am instantly reminded of those who reached out to me as a child, from the equitation class competitor who allowed me to sit on her pony to the breeder who offered me riding on weekends in exchange for cleaning stalls. Magic happens when a child is introduced to a horse and there are so many ways that even a short encounter creates a lifelong passion that can make a difference in which path that child chooses. Matthew McCormack from St. Louis, Missouri was the young winning writer of the VFTH 2011 Writing Competition. “In high school, I volunteered at a therapeutic riding facility for children and adults. I would encourage everyone to get out and play a part in making the world a better place by volunteering.” It is exciting to see equestrians of all ages stepping up to the plate on the bullying issue, knowing that horses feed the spirit, children can learn compassion, empathy and kindness by interacting with them, and that this is one way we can prevent future bullying.

For more information on horsebased anti-bullying programs, contact: • Voice for the Horse A Day in the Country for Kids: http:// www.voiceforthehorse.com/ viewcategory/590 • Equine Connection Youth Anti-Bully Programs http://www.equineconnection.ca/combat-bullying

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