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Horsing around: Using equine facilitated learning to support the development of social-emotional competence of students at risk of school failure

Summary


Equine facilitated learning can promote the social-emotional learning of at risk students and enhance their engagement with school

This case study considered how equine facilitated learning (EFL) could be used to support the development of resilience and social emotional competence with students at risk of school failure in Australia. The study used the students’ own perspectives to analyze the program. Eleven students (age 10-13) participated in the study – five boys and six girls — all displaying social-emotional and behavioral difficulties at school and considered to be at risk of school failure.

The participating students were involved in the equine facilitated learning program (EFLP) for two hours per week over a period of eight weeks. The program — held at an off-campus Equestrian Center – required the students to work with, care for, and ride the horses. In addition to learning horsemanship skills, the students were also expected to develop team working skills in their relationship with the horses and with their peers.

Students participated in two semi-structured in-depth interviews with the researcher. The first interview, conducted before the program, focused on the students’ perceptions of their participation in the upcoming EFLP and what they thought would be achieved by their participation. The second interview, conducted after the program, focused on what students thought they achieved by participating in the program.

Results of the initial interview indicated that students expected to learn about horses and horsemanship, but they also thought the program would help them develop resilience and enhance their social-emotional wellbeing. Some of the specific aspects of resilience the students referred to include becoming more confident, developing communication skills, coping with teasing and bullying, learning to relax and manage stress, and developing attending skills and task perseverance. Comments made during the second interview indicated that the students felt they gained from the program the benefits they expected.

As evidenced by this study, the use of horses in intervention programs can promote the social-emotional learning of at risk students and thus enhance their engagement with school.

Citation

Saggers, B., Strachan, J., (2016). Horsing around: Using equine facilitated learning to support the development of social-emotional competence of students at risk of school failure. Child & Youth Services, 37(3), 231-252.

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