Whilst the children's excitement at learning to ride a horse and the benefits of equine interaction was something we expected through our previous experience with equine therapy, there were other aspects we didn't expect to have our eyes opened to!
Some of the horses reactions to children learning to ride on them has astounded us - initially we only did ground work and basics of horse care with the children, but when it came to ride we decided it would be safer to change to some of the calmer school masters, but one boy, Jason, had other thoughts - he and "Bob" have developed a bond and he was determined to stay with Bob despite all our warnings that Bob is a little too feisty for a beginner.
Keep in mind that Bob was a top polo pony and his 0 to 100 km p hr touch is very light.. imagine teaching someone to drive in a sports car... But at Jason's persistence, we decided to give it a try.. Bob's expression when Jason started bouncing around on his back while learning the trot was a picture, ears swivelling and twirling he was asking lots of questions, but he soon decided that actually it was ok and that this guy would get it right eventually - which he did.. so we were proven wrong again.. Jason's smile when he said "I learnt to trot on Bob", said it all.
Obviously we will keep a beady eye on those two as confidence increases!
The children all love going on out rides, they say they love the space and freedom of being out and "up the mountain" on horseback! Whilst on the outrides, we picked up that they are not familiar with many things like the names of the mountain ranges surrounding our valley, or what "renosterveld" and "fynbos" are - the first time I asked one of them to ride around a "renosterbos" I was asked if there was a rhino somewhere! They do however know that the Proteas are our Cricket team!! So now our rides have another feature, we teach the names of the plants (those that we know) and why they are important, the children get to experience first hand the effects of erosion and fires, learn about alien vegetation and with spring around the corner, we are now discovering the early flowers starting to bloom. We pick up litter, close gates and generally learn about nature. Through the children's growing awareness and questions, we have become more conscious of many things we take for granted on a daily basis!
We are very proud to be working with the Steinthal Children's Home on our first volunteer project and hope to soon be able to accommodate more children in our program. We would also like to thank all the very generous people who have given our horses grazing, donated equipment and generally offered support, your kindness and generosity makes this all possible.