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Life skills, literacy taught at equine-assisted learning program

Equine-facilitated wellness can be effective for people of all ages and all walks of life

KAMSACK — The final session of a six-week program regarding Keeseekoose equine-assisted learning and horse-powered reading was held Sept. 26 at Ravenheart Farms, located about nine miles northeast of Kamsack.

In the program, life skills and literacy were taught to 24 students of the Keeseekoose Chiefs Education Centre in Grades 2 to 12.

The program was paid by the Jordan’s Principal Fund, said Carol Marriott, owner of Ravenheart Farms Equine-Assisted Learning Centre and Retreat.

Jordan's Principle makes sure all First Nations children living in Canada can access the products, services and supports they need, when they need them, says its webpage. Funding can help with a wide range of health, social and educational needs, including the unique needs that First Nations Two-Spirit and LGBTQ children and youth, and those with disabilities, may have.

Jordan's Principle is named in memory of Jordan River Anderson, it said. He was a young boy from Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba.

“We are supporting children who need help right away and are making long-term changes for the future, such as through reforming child and family services,” the webpage says. “For the long-term, we are working to build better structures and funding models. These will make sure First Nations children living in Canada get the products, services and supports they need, when they need them.”

Horse Powered Reading integrates social-emotional learning with academics; thus allowing students to see and experience reading with their entire mind, body and emotions by creating metaphors for the skills involved in reading, Marriott explained. Students interact with horses from the ground, while using toys and literacy/reading props to identify obstacles and learn five critical reading skills: phonemic awareness, decoding, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension.

“We plan to have an event observing the end of the program on Oct. 12,” she said, explaining that Ravenheart Farms, which this year is celebrating its 15th year, currently has eight horses on the farm’s 105 acres.

Working with Marriott is Alina Wissing, who is from a small village near Düsseldorf, Germany. She came to Ravenheart on Sept. 13 as a “Wwoofer,” a member of the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) program.

“In the past 15 years, we’ve had about 25 Wwoofers working with us,” Marriott said.

The WWOOF program allows people of all ages to volunteer on a farm in order to gain experience of organic farming, while offering the opportunity to many people to learn the language, culture and people of the host country in which they are volunteering, said information about the program. The host provides the room and board, and the “Wwoofer,” some labour.

Wissing came to Canada in May and spent four weeks in Toronto and then two months on a farm near Collingwood, Ont. She travelled along the east coast of Canada with her parents who were visiting, and then came to Ravenheart where she plans to stay for about six weeks.

A physiotherapist for six years, Wissing said she is not sure what she will be doing next, but hopes to spend about another year as a “Wwoofer,” possibly in the United States and New Zealand.

“Many of my friends have travelled, and I wanted to travel as well,” she said. “I wanted to do something with animals, and then I found Wwoofing.”

At Ravenheart, Wissing takes care of the horses, cats and dogs and helps with the programs. She also helps with other farm chores, including piling firewood, weeding, clearing pathways in the woods, in fact, “whatever is needed.”

“I like the prairies,” Wissing said, pooh-poohing the often suggested advice for visitors to skip over Manitoba and Saskatchewan, where the uninformed say that it’s flat and uneventful.

Wwoofing is a great way to learn about other countries and meet new people, she said, pointing to the log cabin where she lives. It is one of three such log cabins that Ravenheart uses with the retreat portion of the enterprise.

Ravenheart Farms Equine Assisted Learning and Retreat Centre is located 15 minutes from Kamsack, and is owned and operated by Marriott, a certified Equine Assisted Learning facilitator.

In addition to Equine-Assisted Learning workshops and individual sessions, Ravenheart Farms offers a variety of personal and spiritual growth programs/retreats for individuals and groups, Marriott said.

“We are a nature-based Equine Facilitated Wellness Program,” she said. “We offer Equine-Assisted Learning, Equine-Facilitated Wellness, and personal life coaching with horses through a variety of programs, workshops, retreats, and nature-based educational experiences,

“Partnering with horses can be a powerful and effective journey of self-discovery, recovery, and personal development, allowing people to gain insights and awareness into unconscious patterns, and to find alternative skills to draw on when faced with difficult life challenges.

“A variety of fun, engaging, and reflective activities with horses are facilitated in a gentle, respectful way, for individuals, families, and groups/teams. Anyone can participate, and no previous horse experience is necessary and there is no riding involved.

“The focus of EAL is not riding or horsemanship specific. All activities happen on the ground, usually at liberty, which means no tack or equipment.

As a specialist, Marriott helps participants become aware of their energy while engaging with the horses.

“Horses pick up on our subtle body language and feelings such as tension, fear, happiness, sadness, anger, grief and confusion,” she said. “Horses are always in the moment, and their ‘feedback’ is clear, immediate, non-judging and authentic, based on how horses naturally behave.

“Equine-Facilitated Wellness can be effective for people of all ages and all walks of life, including corporate team building, life skills for youth, grief and loss, personal and professional growth and development.

“Along with providing Equine-Assisted Learning and Equine-Facilitated Wellness sessions, Ravenheart Farms offers retreats and workshops for individuals and groups, accommodation in our three rustic, yet cozy furnished heritage cabins, healthy and nutritious, nature trails and wetlands to explore, expressive arts, nature-based learning, meditation, and more.”

Marriott’s background includes a life-long passion for animals, organizational leadership, human resources, volunteer management, literacy, injury prevention, workshop facilitation, and community development.

Ravenheart Farms may be contacted at:

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