Tutkija Heather Sansomin vierailu

Sosiaalipedagoginen hevostoiminta kansainvälisin silmin tarkasteltuna

Elokuun lopulla 2014 kanadalainen tutkija Heather Sansom vieraili Suomessa tutustumassa sosiaalipedagogiseen hevostoimintaan ja sen erilaisiin lähestymistapoihin ja toimintamuotoihin.

Aloitimme tutustumalla Nina Fagerströmin toimintaan (Metsäkylän Ratsastuskeskus, Turku) jatkoimme Merja Nyman-Olkkosen ja Jari Olkkosen luo (Hepojoen Vuonohevoset, Piikkiö) ja viimeisenä oli osallistuminen itse toimintaan erityisopetuksen parissa Ritva Mickelssonin luona (Equine Partners in Education, Espoo).

Ensikosketus suomenhevoseen (Heather listasi ne "uudet rodut", joihin tutustui Euroopan matkansa aikana).

Reflections on my visit to equine-assisted activity farms in Finland

On my recent trip to Europe to learn more about Green Care and wellness work with horses, I had the privilege of visiting two farms in Finland.  Like anywhere, the largest factor in making a good thing happen is the people that are passionate about doing it.  It takes a lot of creativity to make a horse-business work, and to stitch together enough revenue-generating activities, in order to subsidize activities for people in need. 

No matter where on the planet you are, it is certainly a lifestyle decision for a horse-farm owner to commit to making themselves, their land and their horses available for people to enjoy.  If the services were priced at market value based purely on costs, no-one could afford to access horses.  Instead, those who know what good the ‘being with’ horse can do, often are passionate about sharing that experience.

I really enjoyed meeting Nina and Merja and seeing the mix of activities that they had on their farms- a mix shaped to each of their personalities a bit, and also to the available other resources. 

Nina Fagerström/Metsäkylän Ratsastuskeskus
At Nina’s farm, equine-assisted activity lessons were taught for learning disabled children, as well as a range of other populations. 

There were work-skill learning programs as well, with a member of the barn staff covered by the funding for those programs.  The farm was very conveniently located within walking distance of a relatively densely populated area.  For Canada, that would be a very rare occurrence since there is getting to be such a big distance between rural areas where horses are, and the urban areas.  Having the farm so near the more urban population made a wide variety of programs possible, meeting a really impressively wide range of needs since transportation was not an issue.

Use of horses for therapy is fairly common and even gaining as far as the percentage of the non-horse general population who are aware of the availability of horse-based therapies.  What I was so interested in learning about on my visits was more related to use of horses in wellbeing programs In Finland there are government funded programs which we do not have in Canada for assisting people to get back on their feet when they have become unable to work or study. 

There is also more tendency in Canada and North America generally to treat pathology or fix things that have become a problem using specific and narrow approaches, rather than toward wholistic approaches to promoting wellbeing and health.  In my culture, ‘therapy’ is used when there is a defect.  But from the farm visits in Finland, I had a much stronger sense that intervention is more about helping people be well.  We are well it seems, when we are well with nature.  The horses help take us there, and they also bring people together.

Merja Nyman-Olkkonen/Hepojoen vuonohevoset
At Merja’s farm, visitors have an opportunity to be very near more outdoor nature.  They have unique Norwegian Fjord horses, which are driven as well as ridden, giving more activity options.  The forest nearly surrounds the farm, and there are other animals besides the horses, such as chickens. 

The hilly ground and activities with the animals promote a lot of physical activity in the outdoors, and on a family farm environment which gives a special feeling.  When we were there, there were some young foals from this season.  We walked out to greet the foals and mares who were all friendly, mixing and mingling with us. The farm is family run by a couple of generations, and you really feel like their welcome is ‘from our family to yours’.

In my research, one question I look at asks what is it about the horse experience that is so healing and restorative, whether you have a disability, stress, or are just an ordinary working person who finds a place of peace and a sense of wellness being around horses.  

On the farms you realise that the welcoming feeling and the knowledge shared by the activity leaders and farm owners is a vital part of the experience benefits.  So are the surrounding nature aspects, and even other animals that come along with the experience, like the farm dogs and cats. 

There is something in it for everyone: for the person who needs to just watch the animals, to the one who is happy to work near them or brush or pat them, to the one who wants to learn to ride or drive and work together with the horses.  It is not possible to isolate the one factor that works. 

A horse experience is like a wholistic eco-experience smoothie where the parts work together to make it what it is.

I am very grateful to Ritva Mickelsson for organizing these visits and taking me out to meet Nina, Merja, their animals and their ‘teams’.  I went to see horses, but I came home with the forest and with people in my heart.

Heather Sansom, 21.9.2014
PhD Student
Research Field: rural youth development through sport and animal activity
Professional Summary: http://hrsansom.wordpress.com/about 
Other: Coach, Management & Communications