Hoofbeats Sanctuary is an initiative of Kanyini Connections Ltd, founded in 2009.
Throughout the years, the foundation has looked for the most vulnerable members in our community – those who were falling through the gaps of our existing health and welfare systems.
Initially, we supported children with degenerative conditions whose disabilities didn’t qualify for the funding of equipment that would enable them to live the remainder of their lives comfortably and with dignity. And as the NDIS became a reality, we then redirected our focus elsewhere.
Realising children entering Domestic and Family Violence refuges weren’t eligible for the same support services as women, we then worked to fund children who were up until then unsupported.
With the fantastic work of Rosie Batty and the spotlight she shone on the Domestic Violence sector, funding increased, and refuge services improved for both women and children in their care.
As a result, we shifted our focus to children impacted by trauma. Research shows that those raised in violent environments are more likely to commit violence, struggle with school, depression and other concerning behaviours that can impact success in life.
On speaking to refuge staff and mothers, we learned that traditional forms of therapy were often ineffective. Many children found clinical settings confronting and were reluctant to participate in the standard therapeutic process.
Our preliminary research then turned our attention to implementing effective intervention programs for those impacted by trauma.
A 2016 review examined journal articles, program evaluations and exploration studies where all participants had experienced trauma as a child. The review found positive aspects when working with horses and concluded that children and adolescents gained valuable skills from this type of activity. With those skills, children and adolescents could overcome the effects of early trauma and stress-related illness.
Supporting people of all ages impacted by trauma via equine-assisted learning programs became our focus.
We trialled private, small and large group children’s programs run by qualified instructors – mental health, Equine-Assisted Therapy (EAT) and Equine-Assisted Learning (EAL) practitioners – and those without a qualification/s but had experience with horses and mentoring.
We found that every program resulted in significant shifts in how the children felt about themselves and their place in the world.
We also found:
- neither the children nor their care-givers wanted the program to end, or as one youth worker said, “the worst thing about this program is that it ends”. Sending a child on a 6 week program had benefits, but how long could those benefits be sustained once the children were no longer in the program? Had we given them sufficient tools to find a pathway to a positive future? Or had we just given them an amazing and hugely beneficial experience that then came to an end all too quickly?
- we needed a more affordable model if we were going to be able to help as many children as possible (throughout our trials, all the facilitators we used had their own EAT/EAL businesses and charged us their usual rates – which are incredibly high because so are their costs; horses are expensive critters to keep)
- children impacted by trauma almost without exception had self-worth issues which made them highly uncomfortable working in groups
- many of the horses in the programs clearly showed they didn’t want to be there and disengaged from either the child that they were working with or the activities
We realised that we could develop a program that could deliver all the benefits and remove all the issues by:
- not having a fixed length program but instead tailoring programs so that the child could continue to attend sessions for as long as they still needed support
- inviting program graduates to join our Junior Volunteer Team so that they could remain connected with their Mentor, the horses and the Sanctuary after their program had ended
- operating our own program using appropriately trained Volunteer Youth Mentors as program facilitators, allowing us to deliver programs at a hugely reduced cost
- offering 1:1 Mentoring Programs rather than group programs so that the children weren’t able to compare themselves negatively against the others in their group and so that we could tailor their sessions to suit their particular needs
- never forcing a horse to do something it didn’t want to do but instead, having a highly flexible program that allowed the facilitator to change activities to ensure that the the needs of the child and the horse were being met
In order to deliver our own programs we needed a suitable facility to operate from. Since 2019, we’ve been leasing an equestrian centre from the Sunshine Coast Council who’ve been incredibly supportive of our plans.