Thanks in part to a grant from the Speedway Children’s Charity, a group of 5 Rowan County middle school students from New Bridge Academy are participating in the 12 week GALLOP protocol at Saving Grace Farm. New Bridge Academy is a day treatment program in Rowan County for students with severe and persistent mental and emotional disorders.

The GALLOP program offers the type of education that can’t be found in the classroom. These students are learning about themselves in an entirely new way, by forming meaningful relationships with an exceptional herd of horses. Led by licensed mental health professionals as well as certified Equine specialists in the field of Equine facilitated mental health, GALLOP is an opportunity for these students to experience true emotional health and healing in a fun and dynamic setting.

Horses base their relationships on what they are feeling from others. They pick up on the subtle energy that is expressed through our bodies. By becoming aware of how they respond to us, we begin to notice those things about ourselves that draw others in, and push them away. The horses are always open and willing to form a connection with us, if we can offer a relationship that feels good to them. In doing this, we can learn much about ourselves.

Students are encouraged to become aware of how they are feeling, and to accept themselves as they are. They learn to recognize at what point their proximity to the horse becomes uncomfortable, and to set appropriate boundaries for the horse so that they can feel good about the relationship. They also learn to listen to the horse by paying attention to the horse’s body language, and to honor the horse’s boundaries. By maintaining and respecting boundaries, they can begin to form a positive relationship.

Students are then taught to groom and care for the horse. They become more aware of how their internal state affects the horse, and learn techniques for keeping themselves and the horse calm. This requires self-awareness, centeredness, and staying “in the moment,” responding to the horse as the horse is responding to them.

With the horse at liberty in a small arena, students learn to move the horse forward and away, and to draw the horse towards them, all without touching the horse. The horse provides immediate feedback for their actions. Being able to move the horse without touching allows students to feel the softness that is possible when we can stay focused, aware, and in the moment. These skills are also at the heart of the type of leadership we teach.

As the students progress, they become more proficient in communication skills necessary to be a leader for the horse. When they, or the horse, become confused or frustrated, they are reminded to become calm, centered, and to communicate more clearly what they would like for the horse to do.

Our horses respond positively when students achieve this level of self-awareness and self-control, and the students are rewarded in a way that increases self-esteem and self-reliance. They have the means within them to achieve their goals through softness and connection, and the horse helps to show them the way. Each lesson with the horse is followed by discussions of how these lessons relate to other life situations and relationships. Students also write journal entries on themes that include boundaries, trust, leadership, support, balance, love, and challenge.

According to Robert Grant, Program Manager of New Bridge Academy, “Saving Grace Farm’s GALLOP program has had a very positive impact on my students. They have embraced both the staff and horses in a fantastic way… I truly love the program that Saving Grace has to offer our students and I feel very fortunate that our kids are able to participate in such an amazing program!&rdquo. New Bridge students are experiencing success in their personal and academic lives like never before, due to the opportunities provided by wonderful sponsors such as Speedway Children’s Charities.