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Northern learning program uses horses to teach communication, empathy

Life skills training through horsemanship basics.

A long running equine assisted learning program is continuing to serve the needs of Dawson Creek and Alberta Peace residents, offering life skills training through horsemanship basics.

Brianne Hingley, Equine Assisted Learning Facilitator, runs the program in Baytree, Alta.,,and says it’s really a matter of horses teaching people, not the other way around  

“When you have a twelve hundred pound teacher, and they’re trying to tell you something, you’re doing your very best to do fulfill what they need. You’re doing everything you can to make it work, that’s why it’s such an effective component to working with individuals,” she said.

No riding happens at the facility, added Hingley, noting the horses’ primarily role are as living, breathing, educators - offering insight and empathy.

“If we can, we always try to work with the horses loose, without a lead rope or without any aids, because that offers a more genuine way or easier way for them to respond as a horse,” said Hingley. “And so we work with a horse because the horse will put clients and put participants under a little bit of pressure that’s a little bit different than you get in human interaction.”

The focus is always about improving communication and learning to empathize with the horses, says Hingley, an activity which builds individuals’ soft skills - improving how people interact with others in their personal and professional relationships.

Hingley says their program has been utilized by first responders, social workers, nurses, school teachers, and other professionals wanting to improve their communication skills, in addition to helping at risk individuals through North Wind Wellness Centre and other community organizations. 

“It’s actually a science based program, and that’s what I really love as well. That’s why we can have such a wide variety of groups come and we’re able to fill so many roles in the community,” said Hingley, noting that they never alter how they work with horses – no matter the group.

Horse Lake First Nations has also been invited to take part in training at the Baytree facility, with indigenous youth coming out in May for an occupational life skills workshop.

Hingley began working with horses in her teens, not long after moving to Dawson Creek from Alberta, a path she never expected, but soon became a lifelong passion and rewarding career.

“Part of our formula is working with community organizations, the most important thing is to serve the community in any way you can,” she said.

Tom Summer, Alaska Highway News, Local Journalism Initiative. Email Tom at tsummer@ahnfsj.ca