We recently received this email and feel many people out there might benefit from the question and it's answer:
I run an animal rescue centre in Johannesburg, South Africa and recently we have been working with the children from a home in our area. The children vary in levels of autism and just in the short time that we have been having them interact with our rescue horses, the sessions have been heartwarming. However, I am not trained at all. I simply have a love of animals, we really battle to make ends meet so every time one of our rehomed horses come back to us, we cringe because of the cost factor. Its my 18 year old daughter and myself who run this centre. We currently have 11 horses that the children come to visit, and I feel that the horses have come back to us for a purpose and perhaps that purpose is to help these children. Our sessions are totally unstructured, we let nature take it's course and the horses have been amazing so far. I would like to know though, is that enough? In the book the encounters with the horses were for long periods at a time, am I doing any good having these special little people over here and just sitting on the horses and stroking them, enough? Is there anything else I can do apart from maybe letting them ride and coming for longer periods at a time, maybe one on one sessions? Please could you give me a little bit of guidance? We don't charge anything, these have been free but I need to know if we are doing any good at all, whether this free unstructured 20 - 30 minute session with a group of the children is going to have any major impact on them or is there something more I should be striving for? I'm feeling the pressures of running the Centre, the sessions with the children have been special, but am I doing any real good here?
Happy to hear input and ideas!
LIVE FREE *** RIDE FREE
Are they doing good? Well, I think that the purpose to help this kids free of charge putting all their efforts in the work they are doing is a good aim BUT it could be dangerous without any kind of preparation first.
What I mean is that we need to be prepared and we need our animals to be prepared to do this kind of work.
First, we need to know who are the people that we are serving, what are their needs, what are their strenght and weekness and how we can address them in order to serve them at our best.
Then, we need to be sure that our environment and the activities that we suggest them to take part in are safe. So, in this specific case, we need to be sure that the physical environment where we work with kids is safe to explore (without things that could be dangerous for the kids to touch or play with) and that putting them around horses or on a horse would be safe (otherwise, the horse is standing calm, without having funny reactions, etc.).
Regarding the activities, I will suggest them to set up other activities for them (a part the horses). For example: paint, toys, musical instruments, trampoline, etc. Not all the kids on the spectrum love to spend time with horses. At New Trails we have kids that have never oay attention to the horse once in the time that they spent here.
Furthermore, it is good not to follow an agenda with them but it doesn't mean that your sessions can be unstructured. There is lots of works and though behind every single session! From knowing the child you are working with and address his needs and interest to design the right environment to work with him and prepare activities he might be engaged in we structure our playdates detail after detail. It's good not to follow a structured agenda with them, but this doesn't mean that it's good to leave the session to chance.
To conclude and to answer to their questions... Yes, you are doing something good which could benefit them but lots of work to do yet.