How Horses Are Changing Lives in Rotterdam

FEI / Richard Mulligan
Vakantieschool Basisonderwijs2 2016

The 'Work Like A Horse' project is bringing hope to disadvantaged and ill children in the Dutch city...
While top human and equine stars from across the world will be wowing the crowds at Rotterdam’s elegant Kralingse Bos during the upcoming FEI European Championships, horses are making a huge difference to the lives of hundreds of disadvantaged children in the Dutch city thanks to an innovative community project, Work Like a Horse.

The incredible scheme works with kids with autism, cancer and those living in challenging neighbourhoods. Work Like a Horse also reaches out to kids in sheltered accommodation who have been affected by domestic violence, enabling these innocents who have been damaged by those closest to them to rediscover trust by developing true friendships with horses...

Work Like A Horse founder Fred Rozendaal gave just a few examples of the incredible achievements that have been witnessed since the project began in 2013.

“A beautiful example is a boy that literally did not speak any word at school, said ‘horse’ at the riding school the first time he attended the project," says Fred, who is also the head of FEI European Championships in Rotterdam. “The teachers tried to record this on their mobile phones because otherwise the boy’s parents would not believe it. The match between horses and children with autism is impressive to see as more eye contact with teachers than they do at school."

“Further, it is heart-warming to see how children who are temporarily living in a shelter home or receive youth social care - mostly because of domestic violence - react on the horses during our school vacation programme; terrible harm has been done to them by close family and therefore they keep people at a distance. But they do not keep any distance when it comes to the horse."

Work Like A Horse was founded six years ago after a request from Mayor of Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb. He asked Fred if it might be possible for equestrian groups in Rotterdam to collaborate on a project designed to help solve some of the city’s social problems.

Initially a Vacation Programme was founded to offer a fun activity for children in less fortunate circumstances are not able to go on holiday. More than 200 children aged 7-12 participated in the inaugural programme, with each student taking part in theoretical lessons about horses and horse-riding and activities like horse grooming and horse riding

In 2016 a Special Education Project was set up for children with multiple disabilities. The children are able to participate in weekly therapeutic horse-riding lessons. In the same year the After School Project was created for youth in challenging areas, with the target of helping them expand their horizons.

The project has had a tangible impact not just on the children who take part but their families as well, with Fred recalling one particularly moving event from the final lesson of the 2017/18 term when the children gathered at a cinema to watch a video documenting their year together.

“Just after the presentation one of the parents asked if she was allowed to say something,” Fred remembers. “Almost crying, she told the crowd that not only her daughter was going to miss the project a lot, but also her whole family.

“Every Monday after the ‘Work like a Horse’ excursion, her family took place at the dinner table. Every cell phone, TV and computer had to be switched off and her daughter had to share her Work like a Horse adventure with the rest of the family. Her mother thanked us and said that we had to realize that the project has not only had a big impact on the children, but also on their families. I think it will be difficult to get a better compliment than this.”

The success of Work Like A Horse is highlighted by the fact it could be expanded to other areas in the Netherlands.

Fred believes organisations around the world could follow its lead in offering free courses to children who are often excluded from such fun and inspirational projects, and do not have the opportunity to develop a love of horses.

“The combination between horses and equestrian sports and supporting less fortunate children does not always seem a logical combination for a lot of people, but I think we’veshown that it can be very good,” he says. “Not only by exercising equestrian sport, but also working with horses or the deployment of the strong equestrian networks who can contribute to the solution of social problems and the creation of equal opportunities for all children.”

Find out more about Work Like A Horse by visiting the website:

Text by Richard Mulligan

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