This project is geared towards youth aged 13–18 in need of a therapeutic-educational framework, due to difficulties in being integrated in normative educational frameworks, and who can benefit from individual therapy.
Due to the unique character of the project and the fact that it refers to weekly sessions and not an all-inclusive framework, preference is given to youth who are in a therapeutic framework or who have families that can contribute to the therapy's success.
Youth who are active users of drugs or alcohol will not be accepted to the project. In addition, youth who demonstrate violent behavioral patterns – toward people or animals – that may endanger visitors to the Farm or its animals, will not be accepted to the project.
The Project Staff is multi-field and is made up of professionals from the fields of therapeutic horseback riding, education, special education, psychology and social work. The staff also includes young men and women who do their National Service at the Farm and accompany the youth on an informal basis. The Staff sees great importance in multi-professional cooperation, among the staff members and between the staff and community professionals involved in the lives of the youth.
One of the obvious difficulties in working with adolescents in general and youth at risk in particular is in creating motivation for therapy and involving the youth as active partners in both the therapeutic process and the encounter with the horse. Working with horses constitutes a holistic therapy that allows contact with emotional, cognitive, physical and social areas. Studies have shown that pets, including horses, can help their owners and those who live with them cope with stress, recover from illnesses and even lengthen the life-span of the elderly and infirm. Additional findings show that physical contact with animals can cause measurable physiological changes such as lowered heart rate and decrease in blood pressure. Researchers explain that pets can be a pleasant distraction from stressful events and thereby contribute to their owners' health in a way that can be measured physically (Gunther, 2007). It seems that one of the significant factors contributing to reduced stress of pet-owners is the social relationship and the psychological support that pets provide for their owners. Studies conducted in the field have shown that as a result of the relationship with the animal, pet-owners develop a sense of wellbeing, self respect, independence and responsibility, they maintain a connection to reality, feel less lonely an enjoy higher self-esteem compared to people who do not own pets (Gunther, 2007; Levinson, 1980). For youth being treated for emotional, learning or behavioral problems, horseback riding can contribute towards improving their self-confidence and self-image, the ability to regulate emotions and avoid impulsive reactions, and increase their willingness to learn (Bachi, 2005; Melson, 2001).
1. Creating an alternative framework for youth at risk that are not in a therapeutic-educational framework or for youth at risk that are in such a framework but are in need of an additional framework – in the project youth come for individual weekly sessions with the therapist. The project staff sees great importance in developing close personal ties between the therapist and the youth, as a means for significant, deep internal and inter-personal work. A personal therapy program is designed for each youth, with contents appropriate to him and his needs, according to his stage in the various life cycles.
2. Assembling a multi-professional therapeutic staff that will be involved in the various aspects of the youth's life and will guarantee an all-inclusive and comprehensive answer to the range of his needs – the project staff includes therapeutic riding counselors, a social worker, a special education teacher and additional professionals (doctor, psychiatrist) as needed.
3. Forming ties with the youth's families and with other community professionals involved in their lives – the connections with these factors are maintained outside of the individual weekly sessions with the youth, through understanding that only by cooperating with all those who are involved in the youth's life can we obtain a full picture of his condition and bring about significant and lasting change. Creating a supportive environment for the youth that will enable emotional growth and development together with professional training in the field of horseback riding and animal care – the project hopes to provide these youth with experience in a normative work environment through close personal ties with the direct therapist and at the same time to integrate him in the Farm staff and in work at the Farm.
4. Developing a dimension of responsibility in the lives of the youth through acquaintance with the world of employment and integrating the youth as staff workers at the Farm – in their activities at the Farm the youth are required to take responsibility first of themselves and their work at the Farm, and then of the "other" – be it a horse or a child who comes to the Farm for therapy. The youth are integrated in ongoing work at the Farm and in therapeutic work with children and thereby experience care for others and giving without ulterior motives. The project staff sees great importance in this aspect through understanding that giving enables accepting and provides the youth with a sense of belonging, capability and value of self. These, we believe, will assist him in becoming integrated into the world of adults from emotional and employment aspects.
5. Teaching riding skills and horse grooming by means of beneficial and constructive experiences and learning voluntarily and with curiosity – these skills represent simultaneously both the inner world of the youth and the requirements of the adult world in which he is expected to become integrated in the coming years. At the emotional level use is made of contents that the youth projects on the horse and emphasis is placed on his emotional coping with authority and boundaries and with experiences of success and failure. The learning experience in the stable's surroundings is exciting and satisfying because progress is visible and felt by the rider from lesson to lesson; the horse is a very sensitive animal and this makes him a powerful therapeutic tool. When the rider acts according to instructions, results are immediate. The positive reinforcement that the youth receives is internalized and motivates him to continue learning.
6. Providing an experience of control, capability and success through acquisition of skills such as self regulation and caring for others – at the emotional level, the horse functions as a transducer that absorbs the rider's behavior and mood and responds to them. When the rider acts aggressively the horse will usually resist and not obey. But when the rider is gentle and sensitive the horse will respond and devote himself to the rider. Coping with an animal that on the one hand has a will of his own, and on the other hand is in need of direction and care, forces the rider to find balances between consideration and caring and control, between assertiveness and gentleness. The rider copes with complex issues that require setting emotional and actual boundaries for him and for others, where in this case the other is the horse.
7. Professional training in the field of horses in order to receive a certificate as an assistant counselor and/or taking matriculation examinations in the field – youth who are interested can be tested during the course of the project at different levels and can ultimately receive an "assistant counselor" certificate in horseback riding. In addition, through the school, the youth can take matriculation exams (practical and theoretical) in the field.
"Everyone must know and understand that inside him burns a candle, and his candle is not the same as his friend's candle and there is no one who does not have a candle. Everyone must know and understand that he must strive to reveal the candlelight in public and to kindle a great torch that will light up the entire world " (Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook).