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We're Not Just Horsing Around... We're On the Hoof!

Following a successful pilot and subsequent evaluation in 2013, Venture Trust has continued to develop our On the Hoof programme and here’s an update on the year’s developments so far...

Venture Trust’s On the Hoof programme was developed to provide personal development support targeted to the needs of young people with learning disabilities. The programme builds upon Venture Trust’s 30 years of experience of working with many young people with learning disabilities across all of our programmes, introducing the use of ponies and, in doing so, creating additional opportunities for participants to learn and develop through taking responsibility for and building relationships with the ponies.

The programme has evolved in line with the initial evaluation over the year. The initial strategy was to use ponies as pack animals and this was implemented, with the help and expertise of Highlands Unbridled, in the first two pilot wilderness journeys. This allowed the group of young people participating in the programme to cover a greater distance and hence complete a more meaningful journey, whilst the challenge of caring for and travelling with the ponies added further depth to each young person’s development experience. In other words, having additional responsibility for the wellbeing of the ponies (with support and appropriate professional supervision) offered a greater opportunity to catalyse change in a participant’s thinking, attitudes, and behaviour.

The On the Hoof evaluation made a number of suggestion of which Venture Trust took on board and On the Hoof as we see it today began to evolve. Firstly, it was suggested that future courses should be run closer to the central belt (whilst still maintaining a commitment to using wilderness environments and a sense of distance away from home environments). This would minimise travelling and maximise the useable personal development time on the journey. It was agreed that more usable time would increase the therapeutic value of the ponies by giving time for relationship building between participants and ponies. We now run our On the Hoof programme in the Borders of Scotland in line with the evaluation’s suggestion.

Another consideration highlighted in the On the Hoof evaluation was that the programme should include a greater diversity of activities with the horses without losing the focus upon relationship building skills, working with others, effective communication, and organisational skills. Additionally, participants fed back that they thought the journey should be 5 days long, rather than the piloted 4 days, and Venture Trust staff agreed that the 4-day length limited the depth of personal development that could take place and 5 days would allow more bonding time with fellow participants, staff, and the ponies. Finally, participants expressed a preference for a centre-based expedition with only one or two nights camping. A centre-based expedition makes the trip more manageable for less fit individuals and makes group work sessions more effective in light of the needs of the participants.

To this end, Venture Trust explored a partnership with Equibuddy, who offer group and 1:1 sessions for riders with additional support needs working together to help develop confidence, self-esteem, balance, and coordination. This partnership has proven to be a huge success, with participants taking in part in riding, vaulting, grooming, leading, and tacking up lessons whilst simultaneously experiencing a centre-based Venture Trust wilderness-based personal development journey. Participants have the opportunity to really build a relationship with the ponies, are involved in a wide variety of activities including caring for the pony, riding, and vaulting, and the course is suitable for a wider variety of fitness levels ensuring all participants can benefit from the wilderness journey experience.

On the Hoof as we see it today is a tried, tested, and evaluated programme that has come a long way since its pilot. It continues to benefit a number of young people with learning disabilities and enables them to make and sustain positive changes in their lives. None of this would have been possible without the invaluable support of our funding partners, Children in Need, The Crerar Hotels Trust, and The Wessex Youth Trust. Venture Trust is looking forward to continuing the successes of the On the Hoof programme and witnessing even more of our participants’ successes along the way!

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