Star Community’s Character Reins program at its Star Equestrian Center uses horses and academic activities to teach and reinforce positive character traits and core values to low-income, at-risk youth facing issues with truancy, behavior or failing grades. Research shows that equine-assisted learning programs improve self-esteem, empathy, tolerance for stress, problem solving skills, responsibility and leadership.
In June, Star directed Character Reins for eight low-income, at-risk girls from Washington County Department of Social Services. The session consisted of eight weekly classes that lasted for two hours. There is no charge to the partner organization or the individual. Grants like the one from the Community Foundation fully fund this program.
All eight girls came from different foster programs, and thus, did not know each other. However, in the first class, they shared the same attitude—None of them wanted to be there. Each session focused on different character traits, body image, bullying and setting boundaries.
“I was skeptical at first using horses for mental health,” said Ginny Reed, director of the Star Equestrian Center. “But I have seen such a big change in not only these girls, but also other people we work with, especially veterans. The horses help individuals feel empowered, confident and proud.”
“By the end of the eight-week session, the girls became more self-confident, had learned problem solving skills and how to work as a team,” said Ginny. On the last day of the program, the participants invited family members and caregivers to a celebration where they got dressed up and primed their horses. The girls then presented their groomed horses to the group by riding them bareback. What an accomplishment for just eight short weeks earlier, none of them had ever been around a horse.
“By exposing the girls to a non-traditional, learning environment, they felt motivated to come to the program because they saw it was fun,” said Ginny. “The undisputed success of Character Reins can be seen on the participants who beat the odds of their environmental and behavioral distractions to gain valuable life lessons with the help of their horse.”