A new partnership with HeartStrides Therapeutic Horsemanship is giving NTPS middle and high school students a unique hands-on approach to social-emotional learning. Thanks to the NTPS POWER-UP! program, several students recently attended a three-hour session at the local Healing Hearts Ranch.
“Calm brains make good decisions,” says Kristy Dees, the founder of HeartStrides. This message, along with the notion that “we are all responsible for our own use of self,” is the core of what she hopes students take away from their experience at HeartStrides. Through time with Kristy, her staff, and the horses, students learn about concepts like hope, trust, self-reflection, and perseverance.
Kristy and her team brought six horses into the arena and students observed the social dynamics of the horses as they spontaneously interacted. This led to a conversation about the traits of a good leader and how healthy group dynamics can shift in terms of leaders and followers. It also brought up the topics of personal space, rushing, physical safety, and how those physical and environmental factors relate to our mental well-being at any given time.
Students were then invited to walk with the horses, which led to reflection about trust, confidence, and staying calm. After a short time at the ranch, one student already knew she wanted to spend more time in the program. Samantha, a 9th grader, shared that this is only her second time being physically near a horse. After her turn leading one of the horses, she was beaming.
“I liked how calm I was and how calm I needed to be,” Samantha said.
Another 11th-grade student spent 30 minutes grooming and feeding a pony that had come from an abusive home. Although he’s never felt a strong connection to animals, the student plans to return to the ranch to continue learning and growing through the HeartStrides program.
Learn more about how POWER-UP! is helping students succeed at nthurston.k12.wa.us/powerup.