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KELLY Gannon is a woman of many talents. A mother, wife, qualified horse riding instructor, riding school owner, mental health rehab and recovery worker, mature aged student and qualified equine assisted growth and learning therapist.

L-R: Kelly Gannon-Mental health specialist
Ellen Gannon-Equine specialist
Shannon-Mental health student/volunteer

Having worked in welfare for over 25 years, Kelly was inspired to combine her experience in dealing with a variety of mental health issues with her passion for horses, upon commencing her employment at Aspire in Portland.

Kelly wishes she found the equine assisted growth and learning (EAGALA) model 20 years ago. Since establishing EAGALA in Portland eight months ago, Kelly has run three programs – all of which have been a huge success.

“We have seen really good outcomes,” she said.

“It’s very much about being client driven and solution focussed.”

There are two types of equine assisted growth and learning; one model focussing on mental health rehabilitation, the other designed for educational purposes.

EAP and EAL: The differences between the two equine assisted growth and learning models is clear.

A two person facilitation team is required to coordinate the program; a mental health specialist and an equine specialist. The behaviour of both the humans and the horses is observed; particularly how they interact with each other and how behaviours relate to real life experiences.

“We look for certain things like patterns, discrepancies, unique shifts that happen,” Kelly said.

So why is EAGALA so appealing and what exactly is involved?

But it’s the horses that make this program unique.

“The reason why this program works is because of the horses,” Kelly said.

“They’re big, they’re powerful, they’re dynamic; they have their own brain and mind and how they approach things.”

Kelly believes it is the way in which each individual reacts to the horses that is most powerful.

“Everyone has a response to a horse of some form, whether it be positive or negative,” she commented.

“The horses get the messages home better than what we can.”

EAGALA can target a range of issues such as; mental health rehabilitation, leadership and teamwork, self-esteem, as well as bullying. But therapy sessions work best when all members of the group share common goals and targets.

“There is no more effective way of getting people to set boundaries than to have them work with horses,” Kelly said.

“The horses are very dynamic when the clients are working with them.

“If they are push push push push push and the horse doesn’t like it, the horse lets them know.”

Kelly believes the best outcomes are achieved over a six to eight week period, depending on the goals of clients within each group.

  • Week 1 & 2 – Introduction to EAGALA. Discover client expectations & how they feel about the experience.
  • Week 3 & 4 – Focus on the changes taking place. Are clients resisting change or starting to move forward?
  • Weeks 5-8 – Encourage clients to move forward & overcome issues. Finish the program with a celebration of their journey.

Whilst Kelly has found that clients initially think EAGALA is “poppycock” or “witchcraft in the bush”, by the end of the program they think everyone should do it.

“One client said to me that she hates EAGALA,” Kelly laughed.

“Because now she only ever sees solutions, never problems”.

Clients are required to complete a self-directed questionnaire, pre and post completion of the program for evaluation purposes. With the overall success of the program measured according to the Rosenburg Self Esteem Scale.

But for Kelly, the biggest success is to see how people progress throughout the program.

“There is always positives,” she said.

“A psychologist said to me after one of the programs, that she saw more movement in eight weeks than what you do in two years of therapy.”

Kelly was recently approached by Heywood and District Secondary College to develop a program focussing on leadership skills for a group of year seven and eight girls. After months of planning and negotiating with the school, in terms of how they wanted the program to look and what sorts of subjects they wanted to tackle; the three week program is under-way.

“We are basically looking at self-esteem, effective communication, teamwork and problem solving,” Kelly said.

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Adolescent Health Nurse from  Heywood and District Secondary College Leonie said that it was the first time they had tried the program so it was a bit of an “experiment”.

“It’s something different,” she said.

“It gets the kids out of the school and classroom environment, giving them room for personal growth.”

But it doesn’t stop there.

EAGALA has actually changed the operation of our riding school,” Kelly smiled.

“We are focussing more on relationships and recognising the importance of the connection between humans and horses.

“It can be an amazing experience.”