Equine Assisted Therapy – an open letter to Colin Foster, Head of School Organisation, Planning and Support Services
Monday 12th June 2017
Today was a lovely day, the sun was shining, my son was smiling and I had that rarely found feeling of peace and calm. Today we were at Equine Therapy.
It was Lewis’ last session with Juile and her beautiful horse Shonty. A horse, which, over the last eight weeks has gotten to know Lewis and Lewis, had gotten to know her. He is so utterly relaxed when he is with Shonty. You can literally see his muscles un-tense, his shoulders drop and what was that? Oh, a smile and yes, yes I saw the dimple…there’s my Lewis, there’s my boy.
Indulge me for a moment; let’s take a step backwards in time. My Lewis has had a tough couple of years, school exclusions, missed trips, lost friends and more school exclusions. Lewis was finally diagnosed with Autism early this year and more recently Sensory Processing Disorder.
What does this mean? It means that Lewis struggles to cope with his environment, it means his senses are on overload all of the time, it means he can’t always understand the situation he is in or how to deal with it.
Did I mention he’s high functioning? No? So what does that mean? It means he’s articulate, intelligent and can mirror certain common place communications to help him ‘fit in’…it means he’s wrongfully accused of choosing to be bad, it means certain people think he’s in control of his actions, it means Lewis is branded the trouble child, with weak parents.
Following multiple exclusions at his current school Lewis was sent to Greys Primary Referral Unit for 5 months. Part of his curriculum was to work with the horses in the equine centre next door to the Unit. The staff noticed the connection between Lewis and the horses and decided to fund an Equine Assisted Therapy Placement. The timing was perfect Lewis was going to be returning to back to his mainstream school and he needed one at least one thing to be consistent, he needed stability; he needed some time to relax and reflect.
Julie and Shonty were that stability, they never once judged Lewis; they saw what I see; a sad, lonely, confused, anxious boy who needed to be nurtured and spoken to softly. It was a pleasure each week to see Lewis blossom, to hear a two-way conversation, to watch Lewis’ confidence grow. On our last visit on Monday I noted that Lewis walked in front of me the whole way down the track towards the stables, he walked through the gated entrance first, he saw Julie and said hello before Julie had the chance to greet him. I noticed these things because these are not normal things I see. This, this is the difference equine therapy has made to Lewis in a nutshell.
Today was also a sad day, we were going to be saying goodbye to Julie, Shonty and the two boys Shiloh and Toff, our 8 weeks of therapy were up. You’ll notice I say ‘our’ therapy. It truly was therapy for me too, to see Lewis so relaxed, smiling, his confidence with the horses his gentle nature shining brightly; it was almost blinding, a pleasure to behold. I had a sense of peace during those two hours, it was the calm in our everyday storm, and we were free.
Today Julie said goodbye to Lewis, goodbye to me. Today Julie said goodbye to Equine Assisted Therapy! It’s five weeks before the end of term, Julie offers a minimum of 6 weeks therapy to each child. Julie’s funding was cut.
The local education authority deemed Julie’s Equine Assisted Therapy an expendable asset to children in their hour of need. Despite an 89% success rate of supporting children to stay in school and avoid permanent exclusion, Julie’s service will no longer be able to offer another child the feeling of peace Lewis and I felt each week in her care. I’ve given up a 15 year career to look after both my children who both have very specific needs, you know this to be true Colin, I worked for you for years. There’s no way we could have accessed this therapy without the support of funding.
I’m no fool, I realise the money just isn’t there, I’ve seen children’s services shaved to the bone. But I wanted to let people know, this is the reality, this is what was there, this is what worked…until it became extinct.
Wednesday 14th June
Julie had no idea of what I planned to write, it was my parting gift to her, my way of saying thank you so very much and I wish I could change decision already made….this is Julie’s response to my post on seeing it;
Thank you so much for recognising and openly supporting my work.
It means so much to me at this time when I feel so sad and disappointed by the undervaluing of the Equine Assisted Therapy as a successful intervention.
The funding was withdrawn by the funding panel without direct consultation with me. Therefore I feel that the decision was made without a true understanding of the impact of EAT and its cost effectiveness in preventing the escalation of Social Emotional and Mental Health difficulties for our children and young people.
I would like you to know that Equine Assisted Therapy is an area of expertise where my work has been published both here and in the United States. Queen Elizabeth II wrote to me regarding the value my work.
The therapy is evidenced based. The data is collected and the results written up in reports to evidence its efficacy. I’m at a loss at how much more is required to help others recognise the value of EAT.
All that aside, my joy is in working with children, like Lewis, and their families to create a peaceful and therapeutic space in lives that are often not easy or well understood.
So again thank you for acknowledging your positive experience of EAT, I am personally most grateful to you for that.
Wishing you and Lewis all the best,
You’re very welcome Julie. Brett shared my post and this popped up on his Facebook page, yet another child who Julie supported;
Please know that you, Shonty, Shiloh and Toff are loved very much.