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Horse-based therapy charity in Singapore

Many of us support charities that help needy people in places like Cambodia, India, Indonesia and the Philippines. We’re all too familiar with the poverty and desperation that children especially endure in these countries.

But there are also children in need right here in Singapore who deserve our attention. Many come from broken homes and struggle with dysfunctional families mired in poverty, and some have parents in jail or on drugs. These at-risk kids are vulnerable to failing their Primary School Leaving Exam (PSLE) in Primary 6 (equivalent to Grade 6), dropping out of the school system when they are just 12 years old. Without help, these kids are destined to struggle throughout their lives with unemployment and a host of anti-social behaviours.

The NorthLight School was started four years ago to encourage children who failed their Primary 6 exams to try again and continue in school until at least Secondary 3 (equivalent to Grade 9), when they are old enough to join vocational training or seek employment. Today, the school has 800 students.

Part of NorthLight’s innovative programming is horse-based therapy. When a handful of students first took horse-riding lessons, there was a noticeable improvement in their attitude, self-esteem and character. Eventually, the school teamed up with the Singapore Equestrian Federation (EFS) to provide horse-riding lessons to all of NorthLight’s Secondary 1 students – 140 in all. When EFS and NorthLight wanted to expand the programme beyond just riding, Harpreet Bedi was consulted.

An avid horse-rider and trained lawyer, whose husband Satinder Garcha is polo captain at the Singapore Polo Club, Harpreet was recently named chairperson of Equine Assisted Learning (EQUAL) for NorthLight. This new programme is aimed at providing therapy through horse-riding, grooming and horse-related exercises for nearly 200 students from NorthLight and its smaller sister school, Assumption Pathway. 

“This programme is like a benevolent boot camp. The discipline that is needed to be around horses teaches the kids how to abide by rules,” Harpreet says. The theory is that because horses are so strong, powerful and intimating, they naturally command respect. “I’ve based this entire programme on similar and proven equestrian programmes in the UK and US,” says Harpreet. 

The first 16-week EQUAL NorthLight programme ends this month; the next one starts in March 2012. The riding takes place at the National Equestrian Centre, an independent facility adjacent to the Polo Club grounds, offering students three hours a week of horse therapy. Kids who complete the course can continue to interact with the horses once a week as an extracurricular school activity.

“The adults who are part of this programme are good role models for the kids, and we’re always looking for new volunteers,” Harpreet adds. Though it can’t hurt, you don’t need experience with horses to sign up as a volunteer, just a passion for helping children and a love for animals.  

For information on volunteering, contact equal@equestrian.sg.

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