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An Exploration of the Impact of Equine Assisted Learning on the Social and Emotional Well-being of Young People Affected by Educational Disadvantage Research Project

The overall aim of the present study was to examine the impact of an Equine Facilitated Learning Programme on the social and emotional well-being of young people affected by educational inequality.  A mixed methods design was used, with a longitudinal quantitative element employed to examine changes over time in key variables, and qualitative methods used to explore experiences of the programme.

Dependent measures included the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ), The Piers Harris Self Esteem Scale (PH) and the Youth at Risk Program Evaluation Tool (YAR-PET). Participants were 88 young people (male = 62, female = 26) aged between 8 and 18 years with an average age of 13 years of age (SD = 2.20), along with their parents and teachers. Quantitative data were collected over three time points.  The third time point also included interviews with the young people, their parents and teachers randomly selected from those who had participated in the quantitative data collection at all three time points.

Quantitative and qualitative data were initially analysed using One-Way and Two-Way repeated measures ANOVA and thematic analysis respectively.  Patterns were then identified from both data sets to highlight evidence of convergence and divergence of findings.  Significant differences from the One-Way repeated measures ANOVA were observed in several measures including: the SDQ Parents Total Difficulties and Peer Problems; Teachers Prosocial and SDQ Impact Supplement; Yar-Pet Young Persons and Teachers total score; Yar-Pet Teachers Personal and Social Objectives; and the PH Total score, Physical Appearance, Freedom from Anxiety and Popularity sub-scales.  Two-Way repeated measures ANOVA for young people in the clinical and non-clinical range reported significant findings for participants who were in the clinical range, based on self-reporting (SDQ Total).

Overall, findings suggest that improvements in the young peoples’ self-confidence, communication skills, teamwork and relational skills may be associated with their participation in the Equine Facilitated Learning Programme.

Initial findings of the data suggest that the EAL Programme has been positive in improving the social and emotional well-being of the young people who participated in the EAL Programme and would particularly appear to be the case as reported by the teachers.

About the Researcher

Dr Jill Carey, CEO of Festina Lente & Chairperson of Equine Facilitated Education and Therapy Association (Ireland)
Jill Carey has worked with Festina Lente since 2001, having previously worked at Programme Manager with St. John of God Brothers.  With an extensive background in training and education, Jill was delighted to integrate this experience with the programmes that have been developed over time at Festina Lente.  Jill has a strong commitment to achieving the correct balance between people’s interest in horses and horse’s welfare and management requirements.  Jill is the course coordinator for the Festina Lente Therapeutic Riding Coaching Programme and the Equine Assisted Learning Facilitator Programme.  In addition, she is the current chairperson of the Equine Facilitated Education and Therapy Association (Ireland) (EFETA).