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Serious Horse Play

The Leg-Up Trust is a small  organisation in Hawke’s Bay that punches above its weight,  as demonstrated in Toyota  New Zealand’s 25 Ways to Say Thanks promotion in 2013, when the trust gained enough votes to win a Toyota Corolla for three years.

The seeds of Leg-Up were sown when Ros Rowe set up a small horse trekking business in 1999 to help a suicidal young woman get back on her feet by giving her a job. The trekking business did well but the casual way in which clients rode the horses didn’t sit well with the operators, and inspired the term ‘hairy bicycle syndrome’. To address this concern half-day Horse Sense sessions were offered, in which participants learned about the nature of horses, which transcended merely riding them.  These became very successful.

When the young woman was ready to face life again, Ros felt the aim of the trekking business had been fulfilled and prepared to close down. However, there was an outcry from groups of at-risk youth and mental health clients who had found the Horse Sense sessions beneficial, so Ros changed direction and founded the Leg-Up Trust to meet the expressed needs of these people.

Inspiring funding sources to grant money to give the trust a leg-up was challenging and the first two years were a struggle. As word spread about the benefits experienced by clients, funding became easier, but it was at this point that the landowner whose paddocks, woolshed and yards the trust rented, decided that the clients were not of the calibre they welcomed on their land, and notice was given to look elsewhere.

After a fruitless search for a kind landowner to provide a venue, Ros sold her home and bought a run-down property in Bridge Pa, just out of Hastings, which provided a permanent home for the trust. The property needed a great deal of work to make it suitable for running the programmes, so some urgent fundraising was done and the resulting grants and donations were put in to building yards, a round pen and other improvements. For the first few years a long drop and tumbledown feed shed provided dubious facilities for the human visitors, but in late 2007 the trust celebrated the opening of a very functional client facility. This was followed in 2012 by the opening of a small learning centre, which was a response to a desperate need for somewhere to accommodate students excluded from school and with nowhere to continue their education. 

The Leg-Up Trust currently hosts between 60 and 70 students per week. These consist of youngsters with behavioural issues, victims of abuse and neglect and children with learning difficulties. A select few are sent to hone their recognised leadership potential. The children come to Leg-Up through school referrals, Police, Child, Youth and Family and the Child, Adolescent and Family Service, to name the principal sources.

The point of difference in Leg-Up’s approach, which succeeds where all else has failed, lies in the use of horses as teachers. Where human beings may be suspect in the view of abused and neglected children, the horses pose no such risk to damaged souls. They keep their own counsel, offer what is perceived as unconditional love and do not judge. Four of the horses are Kaimanawa wild horses, while others are rescued from abuse and/or neglect and go on to rescue kids from similar backgrounds. They range in age from four to 30 and are matched carefully with the students; a quiet, gentle horse enables an abused child to hug another living thing without fear of rejection, while some meet their match with the more extroverted animals and adjust their behaviour. The students learn the basics of a relationship that has to supersede the predator/prey barrier, and through this become aware of how their actions influence those around them.  Seeing a selective mute start whispering to his horse and eventually speak to the humans at Leg-Up is a very moving experience.  Witnessing a known bully tenderly grooming his horse when he thinks nobody is watching gives hope for the future conduct of someone previously destined to a life of violence. 

One teenager who had been taking synthetic drugs recently wrote of her time at Leg-Up: “I got a horse called Manu, a Kaimanawa. It was kind of funny because my horse was stubborn at times so it was like dealing with myself when I was being stubborn. He was like my brother, I gained his trust and he gained mine. He changed my life and made me who I am today, he’s the reason I’m still in school. I‘ll never forget you, Manu, I love you so much.”

The work is often challenging and sometimes dangerous, but each child who comes through the gate is loved, and when teachers, caregivers, agencies and parents remark on the changes wrought, Leg-Up is fulfilling its purpose.

Leg-Up receives no government funding and relies on the generosity of the public to supplement the trust’s own fundraising efforts.

Leg-Up Trust  
PO Box 8869,
Havelock North
Phone (06) 876 9332 or 021 807 294
Email: leg-up@xtra.co.nz
www.legup.co.nz

 

Source: Believe Magazine - Issue 12 2015