London's first purpose built equine therapy centre -- where challenged youngsters interact with specially trained horses -- is to be established at derelict stables in Mays Lane, Barnet.
Barnet Council stepped in to offer a lease on 30 acres of Green Belt farmland to provide a new base for the charity Strength and Learning Through Horses which is having to leave its existing site in Edgwarebury Lane.
An advance party with two therapy horses – Mico and Isi – checked out their new site as soon as their 25-year lease had been signed.
SLTH’s team of experts provide equine assisted therapy for youngsters who are facing mental health challenges.
Around 500 young people aged from 4 to 25 from across Barnet and other nearby London boroughs are currently being supported every year.
Donations welcome via their website – https://strengthandlearningthroughhorses.org/ – which describes the “life changing” mental health and education services for young people which the charity has established.
Once derelict and unsafe buildings have been cleared away at was formerly Green Gate Stables and Reeds Farm, and new facilities have been installed, the charity hopes to expand its work and help more youngsters.
SLTH is planning to be fully operational in Mays Lane from January next year and the priority in the coming months is to create an all-weather arena for the charity’s ten horses and install some essential buildings and facilities.
Long term the aim is to build two low level barns with shelter for horses and activity space plus two classrooms.
Robin Bishop, who leads for the Barnet Society on planning and the environment, welcomed SLTH’s plans to make use of the vacant site and put Green Belt farmland in the Dollis Valley to such good use for benefit of the community.
A crowd-funding campaign has a target to raise at least £150,000 by September but the charity will need to raise nearly £1 million to complete its long-term plans to create an all-purpose centre to cater for up to 700 youngsters a year.
SLTH was formed out of two separate groups, Strength and Horses started by psychologist Dr Jemma Hockley and Learning Through Horses founded by Rosie Bensley; they are now joint chief executive officers of the combined charity.
Dr Hockley – (seen above, from left to right with equine education leader Rosie Bensley; therapeutic education practitioner Laura Gill; clinical lead Dr Hockley; and programme leader Matt Bannon) – said their support for challenged youngsters who are struggling with their mental health and educational needs was based on using horses as a buffer, to help them build their own positive relationships.
Horses responded to the emotions of young people by reacting fearfully to anger; nervously to anxiety; and dominantly to lack of confidence.
This feedback enabled the youngsters to reflect on and alter their behaviour to build successful relationships with the horses.
Matt Bannon, seen here with Isi, an ex-point-to-pointer, said the charity was keen to rehouse former racehorses and train them for therapy work.
Managing their 30-acre site will be a considerable challenge: some fields will be used for grazing; others for hay and perhaps up to ten acres for rewilding – which SLTH hopes will help safeguard farmland in the Green Belt.
Once up and running in Mays Lane, the charity is anxious to reach out to the local community and encourage volunteers who might like to assist at the centre, perhaps help care for the horses, or join in with their fund raising.
Just over half SLTH’s income is from grants and donations and the rest comes from the fees paid by schools and education authorities across north and north-west London, including Barnet, Harrow, Enfield, Camden, Islington, and Westminster.
The success of the charity’s work has so impressed Karen Turner – (seen here left with Laura Gill) – who became a trustee a year ago.
“Equine assisted therapy really does help children who have reached the end of their tether either at school or with mental health services. They do calm down once they get chance to relate to horses.
“The vast majority of youngsters we support do benefit and do succeed, some going on to get animal husbandry qualifications. Time with our therapists here at SLTH gives these youngsters hope and encouragement.”
Laura Gill said her work as a therapy practitioner was so rewarding. “We are often told that our intervention is the only hope for getting some children back into school, and that makes it all so worthwhile.”