Turning Point is one of the latest organisations to use Horse Sense for Life; operating nationally to provide drug and alcohol support to adults and young people. The Slough branch runs an integrated treatment service for under 18s and we work alongside another partnership agency to be part of the treatment service that delivers support for over 18s. Here Vikki Lake, the operations manager at Turning Point Slough explains why she chose Horse Sense for Life and the benefits it has brought.
“I found Horse Sense For Life through Google initially. Turning Point has another project up in Sheffield that was using some equine-assisted therapy with young people and they found it really beneficial. So I just did a search for some equine-assisted therapy in our local area; Horse Sense For Life came up. And just in the conversation I had with Selina Joynson I discovered they have worked with some service users over in Reading, so they have the experience of working with drug and alcohol users - Selina just sounded really passionate about our project. She really wanted to help some of the young people that we were going to be working with. So we just kind of hit it off from there really.
“First we had a taster day for some of the staff on the Young People’s team just to get a taster of what the therapy would be, how it would work with the young people and what kind of things we would like to do with them. I then booked for my whole team: My Adult Team and my Young People team to go for a full day's training as a staff away day.
“They did lots of communication skills, lots of team-building, understanding how they best work together as a team. And in between that, there’s been some occasional one-off individual sessions for some young people that we’ve taken up there.
“The main thing I learned on that day was that we are quite a close team and we tend to communicate better without speaking. Selina did some really great activities with the team where they weren’t allowed to talk, and mostly they managed to complete the activity really effectively and successfully without speaking and the activities where they were allowed to talk, they found it quite difficult to communicate effectively because everyone was trying to express their ideas, they were quite strong, quite opinionated and people weren’t listening. So I think we’ve established that we listen better than we talk, and we can communicate just as effectively without always speaking to each other, which is really useful.
“It was amazing to get out of Slough into the countryside too. Seriously, many of our clients simply don’t see the countryside. So to get them out into a field where there are no buildings around, there’s no police sirens going on; just to have that break really, that peace and tranquillity, is something they don’t get to experience. It shows them that there is another world outside of Slough. There is more to life, there are other things to strive for, other things to aim for. And there is another way of being. Things don’t have to be the way they are. Things can be different. They can be different. And the interaction with the horses added to that. It just makes them see things in an entirely different way to how they were looking at things before the session.
“Going forward we want to focus on a project we are running called ‘What about me?’ It's a project for children and young people who are affected by parental substance misuse. So the children and young people aren’t users themselves but they have a parent or a close family member that has been using drugs or alcohol around them, and that obviously has an impact on the young people. We have 12 young people in the group ranging from the ages of 7 - 13. All of them have experienced some kind of trauma in relation to their parents’ substance use.
“So equine-assisted therapy is going to be used; We’re going to take these young people over, to Selina, we’re going to do two full day sessions mainly around confidence building, a little bit of teamwork, self-esteem building absolutely is necessary, how to keep themselves safe really, how to express themselves effectively, how to create proper personal boundaries and just using the horses really. And I think the message is kind of, if you can create a boundary with a horse and get the horse to respect you and see you the way you want it to, then you can do that in every aspect of your life: building that confidence and then to be able to do that.
“This is something that is really different and I think it requires a complete shift in your state of mind to do it. It’s something that people aren’t necessarily used to doing, not everybody comes into contact with horses in their daily life and not everybody has ever come into that close contact with a horse. So it requires a personal shift I think and it changes perceptions of yourself, it makes you more aware of how your behaviour impacts others definitely, because you can see the impact that you are having on a horse really clearly. And it doesn’t rely on words. It doesn’t matter what words you say to a horse, it’s not going to make a blind bit of difference. It is how you communicate that’s really important.
“A lot of young people at the moment are using the gang culture and that kind of language. To take that away from them and have them express themselves without being able to use swear words and without being able to talk in the way they talk; it makes them access a different part of themselves which they then know they can access in future. Without being round the horses, they didn’t know it was there before. And I think that’s a really valuable message for them to take away: That they can be somebody different.
“I would definitely recommend Horse Sense for Life; it is something incredibly different. We’ve worked as a team together now for just over three years and we’ve had a few different away days. And everyone said that the away day we’ve done with Horse Sense for Life is the best one we’ve ever done. It taught them so much, it was a break from the norm, it made them think really differently and we learned so much from it.”