The Carbrook program is currently home to a number of resident animals including, 2 horses, a pig, and 5 chickens. ‘Benny’ the Border Collie cross Maremma Sheepdog, and 2 additional equestrian vaulting horses make visits to the program.
The concept of animal assisted learning draws on a variety of approaches used in both therapeutic and educational settings. The Carbrook program focus on the following benefits;
- Young people typically arrive at the program resistant to education as a result of negative prior experiences; animals provide an initial distraction, then challenge young people to view the program through fresh eyes.
- Young people typically find it difficult and uncomfortable to engage with others (particularly educators); animals provide a safety buffer, and assist in breaking the ice.
- Young people typically arrive fixated on themselves and their problems; animals provide a healthy distraction, where conversations and activities focus on the behaviour and needs of the animals.
- Young people typically arrive with a low self-concept, and belief that they have limited skills and abilities; animals provide opportunities for skills to be learned and confidence build in a short space of time.
The significance of horses
Much has been written about the connection between horses and humans. However there are a few important reasons why horse work well with young people with dysregulated behaviour.
- Horse are big. It becomes immediately apparent to the young person that they are not going to be able to force a horse to do what they want. Instead they are going to have to learn the skills to communicate effectively.
- Horses look for a leader. Unless the young person can learn how to lead with consistency, patience, and calmness, the horse will never recognise them as the leader.
- Horses are a herd animal. Working with horse means learning about how they think and work in a group. Young people begin to learn what it means to be part of a group (herd) and how the actions of individuals impact the group.
- Horses are fun. Activities like trail riding and vaulting are attractive to young people and help them seeking fun and adventure in healthy ways.
- Horses require hard work. From picking up manure to carrying buckets of water – horses require a lot of hard work. You can’t expect to have the fun without the hard work.
- Horses relate on a personal level. Like many animals, horses have distinctive personalities which are easily matched to individuals. Matches may be like with like, or opposites attract!
Young people attending The Carbrook Animal Assisted Learning Centre participate in activities to understand the basics of horse management.
The Program is carefully structured with an emphasis on the following:
- Sequenced progression of skills
- Explicit instruction regarding correct skills and procedures
- Scaffolding of skills prior to independent demonstration
- Frequent practice and revision of skills
Students are signed off by a qualified instructor to indicate a level of competency, and additional records are kept indicating when skills are revised and practiced.
Learning to learn
The focus of the program is to facilitate healthy and safe interactions with animals that assist young people to engage in, and learn the skills required for lifelong learning. These skills include;
- Respecting self – setting goals, accepting support
- Respecting other learners – respecting personal space, allowing others to learn
- Respecting leadership – learning to listen, following basic instructions