Learning to Trust Again – Thanks to Horses

Steinbeis experts run pilot project with Women’s Correctional Facility in Vechta

“Equine-assisted intervention” – what does that mean? Learning to ride professionally? Not at all: just ask the experts at the Steinbeis Transfer Institute for Equine Assisted Therapy and Management, part of Steinbeis University Berlin. In the first project of its kind in Germany, pioneered by institute director Dr. Rosemarie Genn together with the Women’s Correctional Facility in Vechta, horses were used to help resocialize young female prisoners as part of the institute’s B.A. Social Management degree course.

“We were already running animal-assisted interventions here at the Vechta facility, but we’d never used horses”, explains Genn, who runs Steinbeis University Berlin’s social management degree course, focusing on equine-assisted therapy and management. Oliver Wessels, the director of the correctional facility in the northern German state of Lower Saxony, was open to the idea.

In August, the team began initial trials with young female inmates from the correctional facility’s sociotherapeutic living complex. Under the tutelage of a qualified teacher and following a project plan, the women took part in regular two-hour sessions of equine-assisted intervention on the grounds of Steinfeld-Mühlen Riding Club. The aim: to help the women develop key social skills like trust, responsibility, respect and courage. Activities like leading the horse, being carried by the horse and steering the horse nurture these skills in a variety of ways; the ultimate goal is for the women to apply the skills they learned with the horses in all areas of their lives, in close collaboration with staff at the correctional facility.

At the end of October, the equine-assisted therapy group invited delegates attending a national conference on women’s correctional facilities in Vechta to the riding club for a demonstration of their work. All attended, including directors of women’s correctional facilities from across Germany, and were able to see the potential of the technique for themselves. Under the guidance of a special needs teacher, the female prisoners demonstrated the progress they had already made in developing key social skills through their work with the horses during the short trial period. Oliver Wessels, director of the Vechta facility, showed his recognition for the women’s achievements by taking part himself, turning his back to one of the horses and allowing himself to be led.

“Now that the pilot phase is over, the results are impressive and form a good basis for continued collaboration,” commented Dr. Genn, who is now beginning to elaborate a scientific basis for the project and monitor it as part of a doctorate being undertaken by her colleague. The use of equine-assisted intervention, and its evaluation and professionalization, are important goals of the state-recognized degree course spearheaded by Genn.

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