By Darren Lum
Published March 7 2017
Just outside the pony paddock at Abbey Gardens the frigid sub-zero double-digit temperatures did little to chill the enthusiasm of Lesley English who welcomed the official announcement of the provincial government’s support for bringing a equine assisted learning opportunity to Haliburton County through Abbey Gardens.
With two Lac Lacroix Indian ponies and one miniature Appaloosa the gardens has been working towards implementing its Abbey Gardens Pony Powered Learning Experience (APPLE) and welcomes the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s $26500 grant to make their pilot project a reality.
English who is the APPLE facilitator and trainer said equine assisted learning is about personal growth and development whether that is for children or adults. Team building exercises with the ponies is one possibility which could be undertaken by classes sports teams or even corporate groups.
Equine assisted learning has shown to benefit people in developing creative thinking problem solving teamwork non-verbal communication job satisfaction and build relationships.
The grant was awarded to the Maple Lake facility under the Green People effort – to encourage people to support a healthy and sustainable environment. This infusion of money will move the process forward starting with English who is set to receive training at a five-day workshop at the end of this month at the Dreamwinds Equine Assisted Learning Centre in Bradford to receive her certification in the Equine Assisted Learning Building Block Program. This program was developed by the Cartier Farms Equine Assisted Learning from Prince Albert Sask. in partnership with the University of Regina and the University of Edmonton English said.
The funding will also facilitate the next steps to deliver the program which includes working with volunteers to figure out the best practices this summer in implementing the equine learning program the marketing of it and construction of a learning kiosk on site complete with a covered area and education signage.
Present for the announcement and delivery of the OTF plaque to Abbey Gardens for the financial commitment was Laurie Scott MPP Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock.
In a press release Scott said the grant will be given over nine months “to build environmental connections for youth and adults through the equine assisted learning program.”
It added this effort will encourage people to support a healthy and sustainable environment including unite people with the environment to understand their affect on it.
Also in attendance was the Gardens’ operations director Heather Reid who was excited as English about this funding and opportunity to make a vision a reality.
She said this program makes Abbey Gardens a destination. This is what the Gardens is all about as it is more than just about sustainability and being part of preserving the Lac Lacroix a rare Canadian breed but also allows the public to connect with special animals in a unique and powerful way. Reid said these ponies are each unique and demand a certain type of engagement and confidence.
“You can’t be distracted. You have to be present with them. That’s part of their teaching power because as soon as that [particular horse] knows he can get an inch he takes a mile” she said.
Owning ponies and horses and having grown up with them Scott knows first-hand about the power of having a relationship with an animal for anyone of all ages.
“They are with you unconditionally. I think you get that bond whether you’re adults or children. There is a special bond with the pony and you look forward to that period of time you spend with them” she said adding there is a calming effect. “It’s a different type of friend that doesn’t talk but you just have that mutual relationship” she said.