Quick backstory: Last week, I flew to Sydney to attend an in-house training for my Equine Assisted Learning Certification. As part of the process, we work with a variety of different people so that we can actively use our skills, get feedback and be mentored along the way.

Cue Monday morning, the first group arrived. Down the driveway, we see a mass of black hoodies, footsteps scuffing, hands in pockets and heads down and lots of “whatever bro, say that again and I’m gonna drop you!”

Although the label feels disrespectful to me in a way, this group were classified as the “at risk” teens; boys between 14 and 17 years old who had been identified as being absent or disengaged at school; those with substance and abuse issues; problems at home. Actually, part of the beauty of the EAL work is that we go out of our way NOT to know exactly what the “issue” is beyond what we need to (if indeed there is one) because we don’t want it to colour our perception or add to any bias’ (conscious or unconscious) that we might form as a result. I love this about it- a beautiful exercise in non-judgement.

At the introductory briefing, they talk over each other, over the facilitator. They muck around, swearing to each other, avoiding eye contact.

I can’t help smiling to myself. I have two little boys and even though one is only at the potty training stage, the boy-ish banter reminds me of watching my 7 year old with his friends. Different levels of course, but the bravado and chest puffing is still there.

So then to the horses. I wonder how it’s going to go. But as is the plan, the process is followed; it’s not about us, it’s about them. The horse is ultimately the teacher.

A tall, lanky boy called Tyler is in my group. Him and two others are given a grey pony who’s shedding his coat, and the others are picking up the fluff and putting it in his hair. Much tustling ensues. More swearing.

I watch though and in amongst it, Tyler always checks in with his horse. His particular horse is known for showing his mind but he goes willingly with Tyler. Tyler talks to him, pats him constantly and at the end, leans across his back for a photo. I’m told later that his horse is not one to let just anyone lean across him like that.

Connection.

At the end, the boys are asked to choose a word off the board to summarise their experience. Tyler chooses “Love”. I feel glad I’m wearing glasses as my eyes mist over.

And I’m amazed. On one level, it’s not a shock at all. On another, I find it astounding.

That in a 45 minute session, a horse can soften the barriers years in the making.

Let’s get the **** out of here, he says at the end of the session as they head towards the bus.

I smile to myself. He loved it, the social worker said to me.

I know, I replied back. He’s a great kid.

Horses amaze me. How lucky are we all to have them in our lives.

xx Jane

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