Horses Bring Smiles to NHS Staff and Young Patients

On 16th January 2024
Categories: 2024

Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust, and their Charitable Fund, have been working in partnership with wellbeing charity HorseHeard to support the mental health of its staff and young patients thanks to a grant from NHS Charities Together.

The repercussions of working on the frontline during the pandemic, as well as ongoing pressures that are impacting NHS services, have taken an undeniable toll on the wellbeing of NHS staff.

Whilst staff could already benefit from counselling services, wellbeing packs and rest spaces, the Trust’s Charitable Fund recognised a need to provide a learning service to support mindsets and develop tools to better manage the pressures the staff face.

HorseHeard, a national charity, offer the opportunity for individuals to learn about themselves by working with horses and trained facilitators, who help participants to improve their communication skills, resilience and self-confidence.

During the sessions, participants each spend some dedicated time with the horse who senses and responds to subtle cues in thoughts, emotions and behaviour. The instant and honest feedback enables the participant to become more aware of how they are being, enabling them to explore and change thinking and behaviour patterns with immediate visible results. After the sessions, participants leave with a greater understanding of themselves, a more positive mindset and skills that they can use in their everyday lives.

One staff member who attended said:

“It has been without a doubt a very difficult time in the NHS. Offering continued support to my 31 staff members, together with all the other expectations within my role has been the most demanding time of my career. To be able to step away temporarily and focus on the horses was emotional, humbling and the best possible experience. I learnt so much about myself and will now relate that to my everyday working life.”

Edward Macfarlane, who established the project whilst working at the Trust and is now a Trustee at HorseHeard, said:

“The power of this is you have to see it to believe it. We have a lot of people who are sceptical about it and when they came back from the sessions, they tell their colleagues to go and talk to a horse. This is one of the proudest projects I have been a part of, and it has had such a significant impact.”

The pandemic also saw a rise in mental health conditions amongst young people, as well as reduced support resources with the move to online learning.

HorseHeard has supported children with neurological and mental health conditions, such as autism, ADHD and anxiety, as well as their families, by helping them with their communication skills, being more open to new experiences, and learning calmness and a more positive outlook.

Gayle Porter, Deputy Divisional Director of Women, Children and Sexual Health Services at the Trust, said:

“I attended one of the first HorseHeard sessions tailored for children. I found myself profoundly moved by the transformative impact that this equine-facilitated intervention had on the participants.

“The session’s facilitator imparted a valuable lesson: cultivating a state of calm that would lead to a more favourable response from the horse. Witnessing the children adeptly regulate their behaviour to establish a closer connection with the horses was truly captivating.

“This newfound ability was aptly deemed their ‘superpower,’ granting them a sense of empowerment and control.”

Parents reported that after attending the sessions their children’s confidence, emotional intelligence and positive outlook had improved. The sessions also provide valuable support from a new source that helps to reduce pressure on NHS services and improve patients’ engagement with their clinicians.

Onnei, whose son Wesley has an ADHD and ASD diagnosis, along with high sensory disorder and anxiety, said:

“I have noticed Wesley being much calmer from the first visit to HorseHeard, he did get excited talking about it afterwards. Apart from getting an insight of what Wesley would be doing, I found the whole experience was a reflection of myself, it has helped me feel more mindful and grounded.

“Walking Millie round the stable was an experience I can never ever forget. It reflected my exact connection with Wesley at the time, a very clear view at what exactly was happening with our relationship/bond, how we were communicating, the challenges I was facing. It was a very emotional moment.

“I feel extremely lucky to be invited to HorseHeard, it is an experience I will never forget. Everyone I have spoken with since had been so amazed from my experience that they wanted to know more. It was just amazing, and I can see it will benefit so many people.”

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