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Saturday Family Sessions

Saturday sessions for Families with Children with Autism

Our family sessions focus on the interaction and communication that occurs between the child with autism and the horse as well as between the child and session leader, and child and family members. The opportunities to interact with the horses are provided through meeting the herd in the field, sensory exploration, brushing, feeding and leading as well as in games and activities when riding.

With younger children we also use singing: familiar action songs and made-up 'commentary songs' where we sing about what the child is doing, looking at or listening to, in time to the horse's movement. This helps to focus and engage the child and provides repeated, structured language. Some children do prefer to experience and focus on the movement and rhythm of riding without any additional input.

Research has shown that being with horses, and horse-riding, has the potential to benefit children with autism in many areas including verbal and non-verbal communication, social interaction, motivation and attention. It also improves motor skills, assists sensory integration, increases confidence and has a calming effect, as well as being a fun and healthy physical activity!

The sessions are not riding lessons, but are aimed at encouraging learning, communication and relaxation through interactions with the horses, family or group members and staff. The principles we use are based on activities from EAQ® (www.equineassistedqualifications.com), methods from The Horse Boy™ and strategies learned over more than 15 years of working with children with autism in a specialist school.

Do not expect your child to be ready for all the activities on the first session...it may take time for them to get used to the new sights, sounds and smells. It is not unusual to take several sessions before they will approach the horses. There is still a lot they will get out of being around the horses and in the outside environment.

The first part of the session is 'saying hello' to the horses, approaching them in the field or the enclosed schooling area. The child can do this in their own time as it is important that they are not rushed. Parents, grandparents, carers and brothers and sisters are encouraged to join in.

When the child has met the horses we will take time for sensory exploration of the horse. Some children may find it difficult to touch parts of the horse but we have grooming brushes and gloves to enable them to explore without touching.

After exploring from the ground we may invite the child to sit on the horse bareback and discover how it feels to sit and lie on the horse's back. We would encourage parents, carers and siblings to try this too...both so that they can share the experience (which can be a powerful one) with the child and as a model for the child to show them what they can do.

For some children riding is an important part of the session although there are plenty of activities to do with the horses on the ground. We have an extra large western saddle to allow an adult to ride with the child but children over 10 years will be led whilst seated on the saddle on their own.

We have a variety of coloured buckets, balls and hoops that can be used in games involving naming colours and making choices if appropriate for the child. We have cones around the schooling area and can put up pictures relating to your child's particular interests (for example cbeebies characters or numbers) to motivate them and encourage language and making choices.