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Girl robber given riding lessons: Can horse therapy help troubled children?

Updated on August 31, 2011

A teenage girl accused of robbing children at knifepoint was earlier this year sent on a three-month horse-riding course.

The 17-year-old had been in court on a number of occasions after being accused of threatening pupils with a knife and stealing money, clothes, and a phone.

But during her latest visit to court the suggestion was made that she should be allowed to go to a horse riding college on a trip funded entirely by the British taxpayer, as reported by the Daily Mail at the time.

Can horse therapy help troubled teens? A 17-year-old girl, not pictured, accused of robbing pupils at knifepoint  was sent on a three-month riding course
Can horse therapy help troubled teens? A 17-year-old girl, not pictured, accused of robbing pupils at knifepoint was sent on a three-month riding course

This request to change her bail conditions and allow her to attend the course at the Northern Racing College in Doncaster, England, was granted by the magistrates.

The fact that this young girl who had evidently been behaving badly appeared to be getting rewarded caused some anger among the public.

There was also the idea that she was allowed to enjoy the luxury of horse riding while other law-abiding families struggled to afford such activities.

The Taxpayers’ Alliance, a campaign group in the UK, said that it was ‘unfair’ for families to be paying for her lessons.

Families Against Crime branded the decision to send the girl on the course ‘preposterous’. They claimed that it send out a message that the girl would ‘not have to face up to her actions’.

Understandably, sending troublemakers and criminals on courses is controversial. But in this case, could horse riding actually help this troubled teenager?

Youngsters ride horses at the Northern Racing College in Doncaster, where the 17-year-old girl was given a place
Youngsters ride horses at the Northern Racing College in Doncaster, where the 17-year-old girl was given a place
The Northern Racing College, pictured, is a popular place for aspiring jockeys
The Northern Racing College, pictured, is a popular place for aspiring jockeys

Few would argue that young people need to have direction in life. They need a passion, a hobby, a purpose – something that keeps them on the straight and narrow.

And in this case it appears that the girl who had effectively been accused of terrorising her peers completely laced such direction and guidance in life.

It seems logical and forward-thinking that finding an activity and career that she can channel her energies into will benefit not just herself but society at large.

Should taxpayers pay for equine therapy for troubled teens?

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What’s more, spending time with horses as therapy has been supported by studies.

Researchers have shown that being around an animal increases endorphins – happy chemicals- in the body. This reduces cortisol, a hormone controlling stress and arousal. Cortisol is found in high levels in teenagers and can cause their troubled emotional states that lead to crime.

Horses are prey animals so they avoid confrontational and aggressive behavior. This concept is unfamiliar to teenagers with behavioural problems as they often move towards trouble.

Monty Roberts, pictured, is the patron of a horse sanctuary that helps troubled teenagers
Monty Roberts, pictured, is the patron of a horse sanctuary that helps troubled teenagers

Horses respond badly to aggression and anxiety in humans. In this way, the teenagers are taught to use gentle and quiet behaviour such as positive body language in order to get results. They are then able to transfer this into their relationships with humans.

On such scheme that has used horses to help teenagers took place in the Lothians in Scotland.

Thirteen youngsters from inner-city areas who had been involved in crime finished a nine-month long course in which they learned to care for and ride horses.

Two of the teenagers had been living in secure accommodation and after completing the equestrian course their behaviour had improved so much they were allowed to be released.

One of the 16-year-old boys on the course who previously had issues with the law went on to study to become a jockey.

The officer who started the scheme PC Steve McGill said that although there is some controversy around appearing to reward bad behaviour, the courses are worth the money.

He said that the savings alone from having two beds in a secure unit made available would justify the cost. The wider benefit to society is having fewer people committing crimes and more people engaging with work.

A very similar horse riding scheme for youngsters with behaviour problems exists in Liverpool, England, at the Shy Lowen Horse and Pony Sanctuary.

Rescue horse Comet runs in the fields at the Shy Lowen Horse and Pony Sanctuary in Liverpool
Rescue horse Comet runs in the fields at the Shy Lowen Horse and Pony Sanctuary in Liverpool

The behaviour of all of the other teenagers also improved because in order to stay on the course for nine-months they had to show signs that they were changing their attitudes.

The sanctuary rehabilitates horses using methods developed by Monty Roberts. It also gives local teenagers the chance to work with the horses, which in turn helps the youngsters with their own issues.

The pony sanctuary feaured in a television programme called Teen Horse Whisperers in which seven unruly pupils spent time with the animals.

The horse sanctuary - which counts Monty Roberts, Kelly Marks and Roger Lyon asits patrons – helped to improve the behaviour of the youngsters.

Clearly there are cases those described above and many more across the world and in the U.S. have helped to improve the behaviour of teenagers.

Although such courses may be expensive, the cost of giving a troubled teenager direction in life and the opportunity to change their circumstances is well worth it.

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    • JenwithMisty profile image

      Jen withFlash 3 years ago

      I think it's a great idea. I wish more teenagers had this opportunity. The whole world would be a better place.

    • marimccants profile image

      marimccants 6 years ago

      This topic is really new to me. Thanks for the great information.

    • Rickrideshorses profile image
      Author

      Rickrideshorses 6 years ago from England

      Thanks Megan, you make a good point. As effective as riding therapy could be, it is a bit unfair on law-abiding people who can't afford these courses.

    • Megan Kathleen profile image

      Megan Kathleen 6 years ago from Los Gatos, CA

      You raise a very valid point with this article. I have no doubt that this kind of therapy is effective, but given the amount of money a family would have to pay to get their children into these types of programs, it does seem unfair that taxpayers should foot the bill. I am very conflicted on this one...

    • Rickrideshorses profile image
      Author

      Rickrideshorses 6 years ago from England

      There don't appear to be any statistics for that. On any courses for young offenders, the teenagers will have deeper problems. If the activity gives them self-worth, then if they continue doing that thing then it might help to steer them onto the straight and narrow. With horses, it's something that can be taken up as an entirely new way of life and a career, which is something likely to suit teenagers from bad backgrounds.

    • s.wilson profile image

      s.wilson 6 years ago

      Is there any evidence on the longevity of the change in behavior after they have left the program? If these children stay out of the system, then it seems like a great program. If they continue to be repeat offenders, then it seems like it will be an expensive and meaningless endeavour. I think it would be worth it to see if repeat offenses decrease after youth have attended the program

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