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 and these became very successful.
When the young woman finally found her feet and was ready to face life again, Ros felt the aim of the trekking business had been fulfilled and therefore prepared to close the business. 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 closed the business and set up 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 we 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, and provided a permanent home for the trust. This was in early 2005. The property needed a great deal of work to make it suitable for running the programmes, so some urgent fund raising was done and the resulting grants and donations were put into building yards, 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. This caters for up to four students at a time. They are normally enrolled with the Correspondence School (currently there are two students enrolled with Central Regional Health School).
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 learning difficulties. A select few are sent to hone their recognised leadership potential. The children come to Leg-Up through school referrals, Police, CYFS and CAFS 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. The students learn the basics of a relationship which has to supersede the predator/prey barrier, and through this become aware of how their actions influence those around them. To see a selective mute start whispering to his or her horse and then eventually speak to the humans at Leg-Up is a very moving experience. To witness a known bully tenderly grooming his horse when he thinks nobody is watching gives hope for the future conduct of someone previously destined for a life of violence.
Leg-Up receives no government funding and relies on the generosity of the public to supplement the Trust’s own fundraising efforts.