SISTERS Lisa Owen and Cathy Pritchard are changing lives by providing therapeutic horsemanship for children and adults with behavioural and learning difficulties.

Guarded by the dwarfing hills of Pantygasseg, Pontypool, the sisters’ Woodland Farm is a peaceful pocket of tranquillity.

No-one knows that more than Kyle Mervin-Hayes, 14, who struggles with anger and anxiety when in school.

Kyle, of Pontypool, feels like he “is in a different world” when tending to any of the farm’s 23 horses.

“It calms me down when I am bonding with all the horses - it’s lush,” he said.

“Instead of flipping out, I can just come to the horse and speak to it.”

Therapeutic horsemanship involves creating a relationship between the horse and the trainer. Sessions are designed to create a safe and comfortable space so that an individual’s needs can be met.

“We train, we do jumps, we do figures of 8, go around in circles,” said Kyle.

“I want more people up here, so I can bond with other kids just like me.”

While communicating and forging connections with horses may sound fanciful, Mrs Owen says it has a transformational effect.

For people with autism or Down’s syndrome, the impact of engaging in “non-verbal” communication by simply “guiding” and “stroking” the horses is huge, she said.

Mrs Pritchard added: “Developing and maintaining good relationships with the horses is important as these skills can then be transferred to their relationships with other people.”

Horseland Community Interest Company, the group run by the sisters, are often referred pupils from local authorities who cannot attend mainstream school.

The farm also provides a sanctuary for those suffering from mental health issues.

Mrs Owen said: “We have had a few other young people who were heading down a very bad place and did actually turn their lives around.”

She admitted that dealing with vulnerable pupils and adults can be emotionally “draining”, even if it is “very rewarding”.

“Sometimes you do feel you’ve soaked up so many people’s issues,” she said.

The antidote, naturally, is a “ride across the mountains”.

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Horseland recently benefitted from a £138, 436 grant to fund a new log-cabin and riding arena, facilitating more sessions and greater out-reach.

The grant was funded from the Rural Community Development Fund, part of the Welsh Government Rural Communities - Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.

Both Lisa and Cathy are former teachers who have worked in Torfaen and the Forest of Dean with experience of helping children with special needs. After setting up a nursery but seeing numbers dwindle because of drop in the birth-rate, they had a decision to make.

“We were sort of facing whether we carried on the nursery and letting staff go and running it ourselves, but we wanted to be here - we already owned the farm,” Mrs Owen said.

“We had read plenty about this sort of therapy and we did courses and become qualified.

“We then adapted it to be more education based.

“It’s been very popular and successful in terms of what is has done to people.”

If you’d like to learn more about Horseland CIC, contact Lisa or Cathy on 07796414566, e-mail cathy.lisa@horselandcic.com