In Coronavirus Funding Impact Stories, Funding Stories, Physical & mental health, wellbeing & safety

Project: Supporting people with mental health problems, learning difficulties, autism and carers during COVID-19 by enabling them to continue to safely see the horses
Grant: £4,500
Fund: NET Coronavirus Appeal (more info)

Horses Helping People was created in 2007 to provide therapeutic horsemanship for the whole community, particularly people from a disadvantaged background. The benefits of therapeutic horsemanship, or equine facilitated learning, are widely recognized in the USA and are now starting to be appreciated in the UK. Horses Helping People is at the forefront of this, bringing together people and horses in a safe environment with positive results on mental health and wellbeing.

A video call with Princess Isla

“When it became clear that the pandemic was going to prevent us from running sessions safely, we had to take the decision to close the farm to visitors”, explains Debbie La-Haye, Director of Horses Helping People. “This was a difficult decision – so many people see the farm as their sanctuary, and now they wouldn’t be able to visit just when they needed it most. We needed to find a way to support our vulnerable clients as best we could, and also, with no regular income, to keep our horse family well looked after”.

With a £4,500 grant from the NET Coronavirus Appeal, Horses Helping people were able to look after their horses while keeping in touch with their vulnerable clients. Aware of the negative impact that isolation was having on their clients and their families and carers, the team at Horses Helping People quickly developed online and telephone support provided by a team of three staff members.

Debbie La-Haye made regular video calls with the horses to vulnerable clients, while Becky Ross hosted Zoom sessions with these clients to keep in touch with them. Mindfulness teacher Chris Jones also ran online mindfulness sessions, recording meditations to connect clients with Sunrise Farm and providing specialist mental health knowledge to guide interactions with clients at this difficult time.

“Our staff worked hard on developing a project to stay in touch”, shares Debbie. “We swapped mucking out forks for keyboards and took on the challenge of finding different ways that would work for our varied group of clients and volunteers, families and carers”.