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Smiles and confidence at Equine Therapy Programme

 Smiles and confidence at Equine Therapy Programme


Life changing, confidence building and more smiles were how participants described a therapy programme involving horses for young people experiencing mental health difficulties in the south east recently. At a recent open afternoon at the Rag Tree Equine Assisted Learning Centre in Kilmuckridge, Co Wexford, among those attending were representatives from the HSE/South East Community Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAHMS) who have been availing of for programme, the benefits of which were described in feedback from families. 

They spoke of their family members being “once again full of energy,” with others saying “there’s more smiles and the whole family has benefited,” adding that it has “helped establish a positive future” and “encouraged friendships to develop.”

 The Equine Assisted Therapy programme at the Rag Tree centre has been supported in partnership by the HSE, the Waterford Wexford Education and Training Board (WWETB) and Sport Active Wexford.

 The programme is co-ordinated by the Senior Occupational Therapy service in CAMHS and  is facilitated over weekly sessions by certified Equine Assisted Learning and Therapeutic Horse Riding specialists and Rag Tree Centre proprietors Shelly Berry and Denis O’ Connor. The senior Occupational Therapist and Social Care Leader form the CAMHs service also participate, providing therapeutic support to young people during the sessions..

The current programme began in May 2021 and there are currently a cohort of 12 adolescents completing a fully funded 40 week (January to October) Equine Assisted Therapy programme. They will achieve three QQI level 4 qualifications, as well as completing Equine Assisted Learning activities. 

There have also been seven eight-week block programmes run in the past year, with eight children attending each block. These blocks offer a more short-term intervention to support mental health and recovery.

Welcoming everyone to the afternoon at the Rag Tree, Senior Occupational Therapist/Wexford CAMHS Helen Ambrose explained that “as Senior Occupational Therapist in CAMHS, I was delighted to be able to develop this programme in conjunction with partnership agencies as the first partnership programme of its kind nationally in CAMHS services. We have been fortunate, through the excellent Rag Tree facility and its specialist offering and the valued support of Sports Active and the WWETB locally, to avail of this programme and to make such a difference in the lives of young people and their families.”

“The Open Afternoon at Rag Tree was a chance to inform our partners, at close quarters, on what it is we do. The excellent work of participants and feedback from their families were relayed by various means, without them being present here on the day.  Our experience is that the Equine Assisted Therapy programme is exciting, innovative and powerful for young people experiencing mental health difficulties. It is a model that could support other client groups attending the HSE’s mental health services.”