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26/04/2022

Animal therapy builds learners’ resilience and preparation for adulthood

As part of our response to National Stress Awareness Month we spoke to Jayne Haigh, owner of Goxhill Meadows, an eco-friendly glamping site in East Yorkshire. Jayne tells us how animal-assisted therapy helps young people overcome trauma and improve their mental wellbeing, and why Goxhill Meadows uses ASDAN’s Short Courses to accredit learners’ progression.

“After a 20-year career in teaching I wanted to create more hands-on outdoor learning opportunities for young people with social, emotional and mental health needs,” says Jayne. “I started Goxhill Meadows in August 2020, where we get young people and their families out into the fresh air and the countryside. We have horses, Shetland ponies, alpacas, dogs, pygmy goats, chickens, Hebridean sheep and a feral cat!”

Jayne Haigh with her animals at Goxhill Meadows.

Supporting transition into adulthood

“I think the world is realising more than ever that many children have lived through adverse childhood experiences and the effects that trauma can have are becoming more apparent. The Covid-19 lockdowns really brought this into focus,” says Jayne. “Goxhill Meadows uses restorative work to equip learners with resilience and coping strategies in order to prepare them for their futures.”

“I’m currently furthering my research and undertaking an Equine Facilitated Traumatology course, which explores human trauma and how it comes about,” says Jayne. “I’m learning ways to address trauma, PTSD and complex PTSD through equine-human interactions.”

Learners enjoying building trust with animals and developing their confidence.

Building positive, meaningful relationships

“Horses, in particular, are a great way of helping humans overcome trauma,” says Jayne.

Research published by PTSD UK explains how therapeutic horseback riding can lead to a significant statistical decrease in PTSD symptoms such as insomnia, flashbacks or panic attacks.  

“Horses are really good for a human to co-regulate with, to build trust, resilience and connection,” says Jayne. “One of the first steps in overcoming trauma is building positive relationships, it doesn’t matter whether that’s with a human or an animal. Animal-assisted therapy starts with building confidence through meaningful experiences.

“At Goxhill Meadows we create an environment where learners can be themselves and learn to manage their emotions better, especially when they may not be coping in a school setting.

“Many children and young people come to Goxhill Meadows suffering from extreme anxiety and are often easily triggered, becoming dysregulated frequently. They react before they think and their behaviour is often seen as being inappropriate and irrational. They could be compared to an over-sensitive car alarm, which goes off with the slightest breeze.

“A horse’s nervous system is honed for survival. As a prey animal, if it senses something dangerous in the environment, it will run before it thinks – this is the fight or flight response. When young people see this and understand why and how it works, they can often recognise it in themselves and in their own behavior,” says Jayne. “Further work with the horses helps them to ground themselves, to understand their emotions, begin to be able to regulate their emotions and better deal with life’s ups and downs.”

Rosie washing a pony, which can be accredited through ASDAN's Animal Care Short Course. 

Flexible, tailored accreditation

Goxhill Meadows uses ASDAN Short Courses to accredit their animal therapy activities. ASDAN Short Courses are portfolio-based programmes designed to accredit upwards of 10 hours of activity and skills development across a range of topics and curriculum areas.

“The flexibility of ASDAN programmes seemed a good fit for us and we wanted to accredit the progress that the learners were making,” says Jayne. “We’ve just started delivering ASDAN’s Animal Care Short Course and Environmental Short Course. We wanted to give students some structure if they were coming to Goxhill Meadows for an extended period of time. I’m able to deliver the courses more slowly or more intensively depending on the learner.”

"Young people need to be able to regulate their emotions in order to be able to approach and handle the alpacas," says Jayne.

Inspiring future careers

“Through the ASDAN courses we work on developing resilience and building relationships. Learners can start the Short Courses at age 11 and I can dip in and out and run multiple courses depending on the leaner’s needs. The ASDAN student books really help me liaise with a learner’s school tutor. We have learners who are on the cusp of adulthood and ASDAN courses help give them aspirations and signpost them to future careers.

“We’re at the start of our ASDAN journey so I’m looking forward to discovering the variety of Short Courses that we can use to complement our service. I’m not delivering ASDAN to tick a box, I’m doing it because I think it’s what the young people deserve and need,” says Jayne. “It’s setting them up for their next steps and for later life.”

Jayne Haigh and her beloved Connemara pony, Connie.

Please contact marketing@asdan.org.uk if you would like to share your centre's success story or would like to find out more about ASDAN’s Short Courses.