Animals can improve and enrich our lives in countless ways, but few would have expected that horses could be involved in eradicating bullying. Fortunately, a London-based learning therapist named Dr Andreas Liefooghe decided to test out that very notion. He has developed a project, in which groups of children work with horses to improve their level of social understanding and cut down on bullying. Millions of children endure some form of bullying a some point their life, causing depression and a host of other problems. It’s very encouraging that experts are finding new and unique methods to stop bullying.
Dr Liefooghe is based at the University of London, where he works as a psychologist, along with filling various other roles. His new project involves sessions in which groups of children are encouraged to work together, along with a herd of horses, to complete tasks.
Liefooghe received funding from the Royal Parks Foundation to run a pilot program based on this idea in 2014. For the pilot, he invited students from dozens of schools all around the London area to participate. The results quickly and reliably showed that the children's that their attitudes had changed as a result of the experience, with over 60% of participants revealing that they would no longer tolerate bullying in their lives.
Liefooghe has always been concerned with bullying and its effects on children; he has worked for several decades to develop ways to address this problem. He also has a lifelong fascination with horses, and so decided to combine these two passions into one project that might do some good. He currently offers sessions to participants from half a dozen schools, with the groups ranging in size from just a handful of students to thirty of them. Each group follows a schedule of seven meetings, the majority of which involve working with horses. During each session, the participants are given tasks to complete, like leading the horse around an obstacle.
As Liefooghe attests that a horse will not be bullied into doing what is asked of it. The children therefore have to adapt, work together as a team and treat the animal with respect in order to complete their objectives. This is the real aim of the project according to Dr Liefooghe. The sessions demonstrate the power and value of teamwork, and that the children learn to rely on each other in new ways. Children begin to realize that they can’t simply bully their way to success, but can combine their different skills and contribute various solutions to solve a certain problem.
Liefooghe recalls one session that involved a child who was already familiar with horses. Through patience and communication, this child was able to emerge as a leader and help the others to complete their tasks. This is clearly a fine initiative and helps to show that animals are capable of having quite extraordinary effects on our lives. Dr Liefooghe’s project is already showing great results and could inspire others to investigate similar ideas.