As it's just two days before our summer sample sale in London - we wanted to introduce you to the wonderful charity that we are donating the sales of our sample stock too - Think Like A Pony. We interviewed founder Lynn Henry who tells us all about the incredible work she and her team get up to.
We truly believe the work you do within your community is so valued and inspiring! Can you tell us what Think Like A Pony is all about, and how did it begin?
Think Like a Pony offers a unique experience where children can connect with a pony to form a friendship based on mutual respect and trust. This experience is very different to the experiences offered at other riding schools or horsemanship centres. Building a relationship with any animal, including another human is based on three key factors:
- Respect for self
- Respect for others
- Responsibility for all that you do.
By learning to connect with a pony based on these factors, children begin to reflect on their role within the relationship and the affect that their thoughts and actions are having not only on the pony but also on themselves.
Ponies cannot lie or pretend, their communication is honest. They live in the moment and respond to their environment immediately. This is how they survive in the wild.
Ponies use body language signals to communicate their thoughts and feelings. These signals are easy to interpret and understand because they are similar to our own body language signals. After all – we are both mammals!
Many of the children who attend sessions have faced life-changing traumatic experiences and personal challenges. These children are referred to us because they are unable to manage their emotions, anxieties and frustrations, they have lost control of themselves and have become destructive to their environment, their family and friends and in many cases, towards themselves.
Through learning to build a relationship with a pony, the children have a unique opportunity to:
- develop their own communication skills
- learn how to respond to calmly to other people and challenging situations
- learn how to influence others in a positive way
- develop a sense of purpose
- take control of situations in a positive way by learning to take control of themselves mentally, emotionally and physically.
- develop confidence to express themselves calmly
- become more observant and aware
- become assertive rather than aggressive.
- Learn to be self-aware and able to regulate their emotions
We work with the children, helping them to develop a respectful and trusting relationship with a pony through groundwork and ridden exercises.
The approach was a result of my journey searching for a way to help and empower my eldest son with his anxiety and health issues. He became very anxious at the age of 5 when he started primary school. He was an incredibly bright and bubbly boy but over the course of his first term of school he became anxious, developed a bad stutter and did not want to go to school.
After investigations, it turned out that Tom had severely poor eye sight. In his own safe and familiar environment he could cope but in the busy and unfamiliar environment of school he became afraid and unsure.
We live on a small holding and our family doctor recommended that Tom learnt to ride. The doctor was Polish and this form of ‘therapy’ for children suffering with anxiety was commonplace in Poland.
I had never ridden so this was a new adventure for both of us!
I have always been known for having a natural affinity with animals and had successfully trained dogs both for myself and assisted my friends with their dogs. As a secondary school teacher, I understand the need for clear rules and boundaries when fostering respect and trust in others. I applied the same principles of training to our new pony and we soon developed a mutual respect and trust for one another.
I helped Tom to develop and use these same strategies and apply them to his handling and riding. Not only did he develop a strong bond with his pony, he re-gained his confidence, co-ordination and self-worth.
Through this, he eventually lost his stutter and his bright and bubbly personality shone through once more.
Through my experiences with Tom and seeing the huge impact horsemanship had had on his personal development, I was inspired to develop a programme that would bring children and ponies together in positive way.
The aim of this venture was to offer children a safe and nurturing environment where I could empower them to take control of their thoughts, feelings and actions. I knew that through this, I could empower children from a huge range of backgrounds to become the best version of themselves.
It’s so great to talk to you and learn more about the amazing work of TLAP, can you tell our leopards what your role is within the charity?
As founder of the organisation and the lead instructor on the programme, my role is to guide, inspire and oversee education and training of the team. This team includes 160 young people who attend weekly sessions, our 15 rehabilitated ponies and the 8 Think Like a Pony instructors who teach at the centre.
Each of these instructors has been trained by myself. Because what we do is so bespoke and it takes a high level of horsemanship skill alongside skills in youth mentouring, it can take around 3 years to train as a Think Like a Pony instructor. I guide and progress the team of instructors through daily professional development training.
I am passionate about excelling the education of every young person and adult we come into contact with through Think Like a Pony. It is my vision that we can demonstrate through the programme that when a great sense of responsibility is fostered over the mentouring of young people and the welfare of the horse, we can create a positive environment where children and pony’s can both thrive together.
So, it’s not just all about simply learning to ride a pony - it’s about more than that! We can imagine how rewarding it is to see these children develop right in front of your eyes, what’s your favourite part of your role?
My favourite part of my role is being part of children’s journey to empowerment.
Through working with a pony, children begin to develop a sense of understanding that all living things have emotions, are sensitive to their environment and have the power to make choices that affect both themselves and those around them. This helps the children to develop a great sense of empathy which leads them to developing stronger connections with not only with animals but other people too. Children begin to reflect on their own power to take control of their behaviours and choices, enabling them to see a positive future for themselves.
They are empowered to build a positive relationship with an animal that is mutually beneficial to the pony and themselves and through this their confidence develops as their fear and anxiety unravels.
How do the children react to being out of the city and with the ponies?
When children first come to the farm, they expect to see ponies stood in stables. Allowing them to see and interact with the ponies in a way that is as natural as possible helps to fire their imagination. They especially enjoy observing the pony’s interact naturally with one another. They see the potential for building a relationship with a pony and riding in large open spaces.
What sort of activities do the children get up to at Think Like A Pony?
The activities at our centre are not like those at any other riding school! Children learn all aspects of horsemanship and horse care including:
- Learning to empathetically and effectively communicate with a horse on the ground
- Developing the co-ordination, confidence and balance needed to be an effective and empathetic rider
- Understanding horse care from the pony's perspective, understanding what a pony needs and how to keep them well
Children learn how to communicate with a pony through their own body language at the same time as learning to read and understand a pony’s body language. They learn how to massage a pony and how to care for them holistically.
Do you feel that the ponies empower the children? And can you share with us your best experience of this?
Ponies empower children in so many ways.
A pony is looking for a good leader, someone who they can feel safe with. In order to build a positive friendship with a pony, a child must develop positive leadership qualities such as:
- Planning ahead
Seeing children try hard to use strategies to help them to develop these qualities is always very moving.
A significant amount of the children who come on the project are suffering from life-altering levels of anxiety and fear. When fear takes hold of them, they become disempowered and can often make negative life choices.
Learning how to control fear and anxiety through positive body language signals, positive intention and controlled breathing gives the children a feeling of success. This fills them with positive energy mentally, emotionally and physically. This feeds the ‘I can do this’ attitude that we foster at Think Like a Pony
Riding especially can bring up fear because, if you are not in control of yourself mentally, emotionally and physically, you cannot safely control and direct the pony.
Learning to use strategies to take control in order so that you can take control of a pony from the ground or the saddle is very powerful.
These strategies are skills that can be transferred to areas of a child’s life outside of Think Like a Pony.
Because all children are mentored one-to-one, staff have every opportunity to help the children to develop these strategies and adopt them in their lives.
We’re so excited to be involved with your meaningful charity, how will ours and others donations aid in the growth and awareness of TLAP?
All donations will go directly towards our fundraising campaign to raise money for a purpose-built, accessible centre that we already have planning permission for. This centre will enable us to meet the great demand for our services to empower children with mental health, social and emotional difficulties.
We have a huge task ahead of us to raise the money required to achieve this vision. As a Community Interest Company, all our profits are reinvested into our work with vulnerable children. Without help we would not be able to build the new centre that children referred to our service need.
That’s amazing to hear. So how can people can be involved and donate or raise money for this great cause?
We have a Go Fund Me page which can be found at www.gofundme.com/thinklikeapony where supporters can make a direct donation. We are also welcoming people to join the campaign to run their own events or sponsored activities. So far, we have had people support the campaign through sponsored walks, tough mudders, bake sales and even upcycled furniture sales! Our most unique donation was the upcycling of a beautiful rocking horse which will be raffled off later this year.
If any leopards are interested in helping to raise money, they can request a fundraising pack through emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s been great talking to you Lynn, we will look forward to seeing you at our sample sale this Saturday and Sunday 12pm-6pm, 25 Woodseer Street, London.