An initiative set up by Rural Liaison Officer Patrick (Paddy) Henderson in Cromwell is seeing positive results for rangatahi, and it’s all down to some very special non-human help.
“I’ve always been into riding and often hunt deer on horseback and trek a lot with horses,” says Paddy. “About 18 months ago, after speaking with a teacher at Cromwell College, we thought it would be good to get some students who wouldn’t usually have the opportunity to come along and spend a term learning how to ride.”
Over time, this partnership with Cromwell College evolved, with Paddy and college staff seeing an opportunity to help both students with behavioural issues and youths at risk of offending.
“With the help of local Constable Sophie McSkimming, we’ve changed the programme and tailored it to youth who are going through problems at school, not attending and some who are popping up on our radar, so to speak,” says Paddy.
“We call it Grab the Reins.”
The initiative now sees four to five students spending two terms with Paddy and his horses, learning how to ride and take care of them and also developing skills to assist with seeking employment.
“I realise that school isn’t for everyone, but a big part of this programme is helping the youth involved to consider what they might need to open up opportunities when they eventually leave college.”
Throughout the programme, Paddy takes them through basic building skills and makes sure to keep it fun along the way.
“I kind of turn everything into a friendly competition, and they seem to really respond to that.”
Grab the Reins has seen a lot of positive results for the rangatahi involved, with one recent participant moving into full-time employment with the support of their teachers and parents.
Paddy says he’s constantly amazed at how the participants respond to spending time with the horses, and is pleased with how they all progress.
“Spending time with the horses just seems to relax them, open them up – they quickly start speaking with the horses and develop a meaningful relationship. And it’s so great to hear from their teachers how their behaviour improves as the weeks go by.
“Being up close with the horses, showing care and attention and having that returned by the horses just seems to build trust, and a bond that helps these kids in their day-to-day lives.”
During the course they also see how shoes are put on a horse, a horse dentist demonstrates his work in dentistry and they visit a woolshed to watch sheep being shorn.
At the end of the course, the youth aim to be able to catch their horse in the paddock, tie a rope halter on it and saddle it up to go for a ride by themselves, as well as other life skills picked up along the way.