The healing power of horses

A participant spending some time with a horse as part of the equine therapy programme.

An equine therapy programme at a Fisantekraal farm uses horses to help people deal with problems in their lives.

Since its launch just over a year ago, the eight-week programme by 2nd Chance, a non-profit organisation, has helped hardened gangsters from rival gangs, drug addicts, alcoholics, abuse victims and troubled teenagers turn their lives around.

Founded by Jarryd Smith, a former drug addict, 2nd Chance runs various programmes, such as early intervention at schools, life skills, dance and art, sports and counselling and support.

Programme manager Stacey Doorly-Jones, has been involved with the horse therapy for 10 years. She said the horses helped people connect and speak about personal issues. She has received training in addiction counselling and equine-assisted psychotherapy.

“Horses pick up on non-verbal communication and are able to connect with you in that moment. The way in which a horse responds to you, helps us to pick up on things,” she said.

Facilitators later explore those issues with the participants in group sessions.

Ms Doorly-Jones said she had noticed how the horses frequently helped to break down barriers, making it easier for the facilitators to reach those taking part in the course.

For example, she described how the horses would often stand their ground if something was bothering one of the participants.

In another case they had appeared to mimic the distress of one of the participants.

Northern News sat in on a session with a group of drug addicts from Klipheuwel on Wednesday January 25.

The group was brought to 2nd Chance by Wendy Bosse from Olympians Social Development, a community-based organisation that works in areas such as Morningstar, Fisantekraal and Klipheuwel.

Ms Bosse and 2nd Chance have been working together for the past year and have brought five groups of people to the programme.

The group is led into the arena where the horses are kept by Mr Smith and Denzil Moses, a former Fancy Boys gang leader. The two use their experiences to connect with the participants while they are in the arena with the horses.

Later, there is time for the participants to reflect on the past week and they talk candidly about where they are at. Some admit they have given in to temptation, others have emotional breakthroughs.

Mr Smith said he had had his doubts about the programme at first, but they vanished when he saw how the horses responded.

“We are able to bring what we pick up during the sessions with the horses into the group talks. We have witnessed people sharing stories of what they have been through from being molested to abuse, for the first time ever,” he said.

After being given a second chance himself, leaving a life of gangsterism and turning around at death’s door after he was shot, Mr Moses believes he can use his life experience to help others.

“This is a safe space for people to share their fears and the hurt they have experienced. Here they are given a chance to heal and the change is visible. We have seen how the people who come through our programme become leaders in their community,” he said.

Mr Smith said they continued to support participants after the eight weeks and although some had fallen by the wayside, they had also seen success stories from every group.

The programme was free to participants and relied on sponsorship to cover its costs, said Ms Doorly-Jones.

The programme currently has groups from the Lindelani Secure Care Facility, in Stellenbosch; Group of Hope, which works with gangs in Kraaifontein, and a group of homeless people from Mould Empower Serve (MES) in Bellville.