HopeForCovidHeroes – an equine assisted wellbeing project for frontline workers

Horse with member of staff

HopeForCovidHeroes – an equine assisted wellbeing project for frontline workers

During the Covid-19 pandemic we became involved in a national a project to improve the wellbeing of frontline workers through equine assisted wellbeing sessions.

The project was a collaboration between UK federation members of the Federation of Horses in Education and Therapy International (HETI (UK)) and was coordinated by Dr Celia Grummit of Gul Outdoor Therapy.

The project came at a time during the pandemic when frontline workers were overloaded with stress. Many experienced traumatic conditions whilst they worked to keep the country safe. The aim of the #HopeForCovidHeroes pilot was to see if equine assisted wellbeing sessions could improve the mental health of frontline workers who had been adversely affected by their pandemic experiences. The sessions involved participants working with a qualified facilitator in structured sessions whilst grooming, riding or leading a horse or pony. The frontline workers came from a variety of backgrounds including teaching, retail, and health care.

The pilot programme was delivered by Gul Outdoor Therapy, the Mare and Foal Sanctuary and the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Equine Activities (ACPEA).

The wellbeing of both human participants and their equine partners was monitored throughout by the experienced facilitators and equine specialists leading the sessions. Horses and ponies who enjoy human interaction were carefully selected to join the sessions. Participants were also screened by experienced staff before joining the project to see whether the wellbeing activities would be suitable.

The initial evaluation of the pilot indicated over half the frontline workers involved reporting significant improvement in their anxiety levels. This has offered the possibility of equine assisted wellbeing sessions being used as a cost-effective, drug-free option for those suffering from burnout and anxiety. Informal feedback from those helped has been incredibly positive with one participant saying that the experience had been transformative: ‘It felt as if I was carrying the weight of so many people, and now I am being carried’.

Sarah Jane Williamson, our Chief Executive, explains why the project was so important: “We are delighted to have collaborated on the #HopeforCovidHeroes project as a delivery partner for the pilot scheme. We know that equine assisted wellbeing sessions can be a life-changing, healing experience for those involved. We aim to make that experience open to people who don’t usually have the opportunity to engage with horses and ponies. We look forward to developing even more opportunities for people in our local community to experience equine assisted wellbeing sessions.”

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