Our Services

Animal Assisted Therapy /Interventions

Animal Assisted Education

Alternative Education Programmes

Equine Facilitated Learning

Animal Assisted Therapy / Interventions

Animal Assisted Therapy / Interventions are a form of reflective and experiential learning for individuals who have a need to develop personal, vocational or professional skills and behaviours. 

We have a range of animals that assist us in AAT/I from our Pygmy Goats, Cats, Rabbits, Guinea Pigs, Bearded Dragon, Parrot and more (we even work, on occasion with a snake). Our therapy animal(s) are involved in supporting the client in developing core social and emotional competencies.

Lynn (lead practitioner) works alongside the spontaneous and naturally occuring animal behaviours combined with a coaching approach to support the client in the development of life skills, particularly self-confidence, self-esteem, emotional regulation and empathy, helping children and adults to become emotionally and psychologically capable and resilient when dealing with stressful, challenging or new experiences. Sessions with animals also help clients develop adaptive and positive behaviours towards themselves and others and so enhance relationships.

How Does AAT/I Work?

AAT/I works due to the natural and innate connection we have with animals, we call this the human-animal bond. Animals also act in the moment and are non-judgemental. Clients naturally feel safe in the presence of their chosen therapy animal(s) and this helps to form a connection and trust with the AAI practitioner. Additionally, clients who see how well-cared for and loved our animals are, feel both physically and psychologically safe and this creates a supportive, calm learning environment.

The emotional boost we get from being around animals is the bodies ‘happy response’, where the body in response to the perceived pleasurable encounter releases serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin. These are stress-reducing hormones and they therefore generate relaxation. The hormone release can also lower symptoms of depression and sadness, thus increasing mood and promoting positive mental health.

How can AAI/T help neurodivergent clients?

Clients with neurological differences, such as autism, often achieve more in therapy and educational settings when they have an animal to interact with. The presence of an animal can create spontaneous communication (verbal or non-verbal) in situations where a child might otherwise not feel able to communicate. Neurodivergent children often relate better to animals than humans, and this aids engagement. 

Where clients start or move onto working with more or even unusual animals, they begin to gain confidence, develop a sense of purpose and feel pride, joy and elation, all of which lead to increased self-esteem. Such experiences can change the neurology so that the next time they face a scary situation, they will know it’s possible to come out the other side of their fear. That confidence didn’t exist before – the experience with the animal has rewired the brain so that they are more able to overcome their fears and approach difficult and challenging situations, in turn, they develop self-belief and resilience.

But why else are animals so helpful to humans?

The happy hormone release also helps lower anxiety, so clients feel less anxious in their sessions than any traditional learning, coaching or therapy session.

The presence of an animal also provides comfort and a positive distraction from perceived demands and challenges. For children with anxiety and hyperactivity disorders, the animals can help calm or focus the child, so they can be more open and motivated to learn.

Barriers to learning and a fixed mind-set linked to school-based anxiety and trauma can be overcome by the animals’ presence. Initial fears and resistance to learning can be lowered and eradicated, enabling a trusting client / practitioner relationship to build and the child to open up to the possibilities or learning to believe in themselves and in turn to flourish.

What is Animal Assisted Learning useful for?

As noted above AAI/T can be used as a tool for increasing confidence, reduced low mood and enhanced self-esteem, these concepts are broadly linked to emotional intelligence and AAI/T often focuses  on the following key areas: 

  • Self and social awareness
  • Self-management (emotional regulation, perception, realism, growth mind-set)
  • Problem solving
  • Decision making
  • Communication
  • Relationship skills
How will an AAI/T session look?

Sessions are usually 60-75 minutes in duration and during this time the client(s) will usually be working with the animals at liberty (free roaming within their natural environment).

Facilitation is akin to translating the learning between the client and the animal, rather than to instruct, or teach. It is important to note that this is not therapy or psychotherapy in so far as it does not look back at the reasons for trauma, or for emotional/behavioural difficulties. Instead it helps the person move forward from their starting point and work on solutions to the challenges they are facing.

Do we get to pet and cuddle the animals?

We often see websites and images pertaining to animal assisted therapy, where a child is cuddling a small animal. However, AAI works best when the animal has agency to choose to be with and interact with the client (or not) and is not forced into being petted. The latter potentially being stressful for the animal. In such circumstances this can both create a negative environment for the animal, which in turn would not be reciprocally beneficial, importanlty it portrays an viewpoint that infers humans have the right to restrain an animal for human benefit and we do not believe this is healthy and does not constitute effective AAI.

However, in our AAI/T sessions, clients develop trust with their preferred animal and work alongside them, inviting them to participate in enriching activities that in turn are reflective of the client’s current challenges. In most circumstances, the animals will then approach and choose to be with the client. This is far more rewarding and empowering for the client to realise how positive reciprocal relationships work and that the therapy animal has chosen to participate.

How many sessions will I need?

Whilst it is not possible to say for certain how many sessions a client might need, sessions are usually booked as 6 or 8 week (or session) programmes. It is preferable for continuity if these are weekly, but alternative patterns can be discussed and accommodated (subject to availability). We do not usually advocate single sessions but can offer a single session as a means of determining if AAT/I programmes are right for the client.

Quick Enquiry

Send a quick enquiry using the form below and we will be in touch to discuss this topic further with you. Alternativly, you can send us a message using our contact page.


Animal Assisted Education

This programme is designed to target well-being for social, emotional, mental health (SEMH), or behaviour and is particularly suited to children aged eight upwards who may be struggling in their education setting. Specifically, the programme addresses the clients:

  • self-awareness
  • Self-belief
  • self-management
  • social awareness and social skills
  • relationship skills
  • responsible decision making.

The above are what we call emotional intelligence, and all activities are aligned to these domains.

There are many activities a client may be involved in as we specifically coach the above domains, and this may largely depend on the animals involved. For example, in working with Donkey’s we may be grooming, leading, feeding, mucking out, feeding or other activities associated with caring duties and the welfare of the donkeys. In working with rabbits, we might be feeding, grooming, health checking, creating enrichment and learning about the animals needs and care. This also provide opportunities for what is known as ‘metaphorical learning’, meaning we learn about the care of another species and aim to help the client generalise and relate this and therefore transfer this to a change in their own context, whether this be about their own self-care, their communication skills, emotional regulation etc.

We have a wide range of animals, from donkeys, goats, rabbits, guinea pigs, through to our resident parrot and reptiles and all are unique in their needs (just like humans). We develop respect and empathy for species, including self-respect and empathy for others. Our clients may also develop self-confidence and self-esteem over time by working with animals that they may previously have been wary of.

Whatever animal, or animals the client prefers to work with over a period of time affords us rich opportunities to use the natural qualities and behaviour of the animal, to support reflection, self-discovery and transferable learning for each learner, that is tailored and specific to their unique self and starting points.

Quick Enquiry

Send a quick enquiry using the form below and we will be in touch to discuss this topic further with you. Alternativly, you can send us a message using our contact page.


What will an Animal Assisted Education (AAE) session look like?

AAE sessions are usually 2-3 hours in duration and during this time the client(s) will start with their choices of animals and activities that they wish to work with on the day, and (where relevant) their personal goals. Whilst sessions may look similar to those in our Alternative Education Programme, they are different in so far as the client will still likely be in an educational setting (incl. home educational setting) that is targeted towards academic or cognitive development, compared to our session which are targeted to emotional intelligence. Our sessions aim to enhance the client’s awareness of their barriers to and motivations for learning. AAE can therefore be hugely complimentary to the child who is struggling with or in school (e.g anxiety based school avoidance) or belief in their learning capacity (such as reluctant readers, barriers to maths etc).

Referrals

Referrals can be made at any stage in the year; we accept self-referral (with caregivers for under 18’s), school / Education provider SENCo, CAMHS, NHS/Local Authority Caseworker, Probation officer etc. September and January start dates are increasingly popular, particularly where children and young people encounter struggles in mainstream or other educational environments during the first term.

Alternative Education Programmes

Our educational activities are designed and delivered flexibly to meet the needs of each individual’s childs likes, needs, and wants. Learning activities are usually highly vocational or ‘hands-on’ and based on experiential learning, where the child or young person immerses themselves in the learning process and is supported in reflection and understanding their own learning and achievement. This is facilitated through the interaction with a range of animals and / or nature-based activities. We believe in the ‘curiosity approach’, allowing the individual’s interests to factor into planned sessions, thus engaging the individual fully in their planned programme in an enjoyable way.

Our programmes place emphasis on personal development, autonomy, and resilience, with goals or learning objectives determined prior to the programme commencement and regularly reviewed (most often these are linked to the learner’s EHCP, where one is present).

Who are our clients?

Many of our clients have social anxieties and so thrive on being educated individually, receiving a bespoke and highly personalised education that is simply not possible in a group setting. Most of our clients have neurodiverse challenges and need alternative provision due to lack of specialist education spaces available to them, or do to exclusions or other school based non-attendance. Most of the children on our alternative education packages are funded through EOTAS (education other than at school).

Having only one client on site at a time, allows us to work with any resource of choice, to plan and implement activities aligned to the clients’ motivations at the time of arrival and allows us to accommodate learners who may arrive slightly dysregulated. Learners are engaged from the moment they arrive in planning out their day, deciding on which environment or animals they would like to work with, and being the driving force behind the plans for their session. Having two members of staff assures high levels of safety and safeguarding.

We do however, offer one group session per week (with a maximum of four under 18’s). This group session is a useful progression and transition for our young people to stay or reconnect with society and to develop positive and meaningful interactions with their peer group. However, we strongly recognise individuality and all small group programmes are highly differentiated to each and every child / young person.

Referrals

Referrals can be made at any stage in the year; albeit September and January start dates are increasingly popular, particularly where children and young people encounter struggles in mainstream or other educational environments during the first terms.

How does working with our animals help?

The integration of animals enhances the young person’s developmental and psychosocial health, as well as their physical health, such as core strength, mobility, and proprioception. Animals are non-judgemental sentient beings and positive interactions with animals through the provision of care, grooming, or simply having moments of mindfulness and quiet with the animals is highly beneficial to young people and acts as a metaphor for developing empathy, kindness and essential life and social skills.

Young people will have opportunities to assist in daily duties with animals, which might involve health checking, grooming, feeding, cleaning, being creative and designing new enrichment for enclosures or helping with animal training – we have lots of fun walking and grooming donkeys, goats, guinea pigs and feeding rabbits. We also allow our clients to partake in all aspects of animal husbandry, such as stable management, cleaning and setting up enclosures, paddock maintenance etc. All activities are risk-assessed, and the client’s strengths and interests incorporated into the activities they undertake.

The presence of the animal acts as a bridge or motivator for the individual to participate in interventions, and / or as a metaphor for connecting the client in the determined areas of development. For example, a client with a goal of increased tolerance, or patience can develop these through the kind and empathetic interactions with a chosen animal or animals, with an emphasis on relationships and animal welfare.All of the animals at AiM are companion animals formerly from rescue. Most animals communicate non-verbally, a useful survival tool for most prey species and one from which we can derive many lessons on how we personally communicate and self-regulate. Building reflection into how the young person responds and is responded to builds the young person’s self-awareness. The animal does not judge the young person’s background, race, disability, or ‘difference’; they simply act in a pure ‘in-the moment’ way, which is invaluable for the developing young person, particularly those who need a quieter learning environment, or have encountered trauma.

How do our nature-based activities help?

Animals in Mind also incorporates our nature-based learning activities (where suited to the individual’s needs) and forest school activities, foraging for animal feed, building shelters, creating, and cooking by campfires, woodland walking and activities and nature-based identification such as animal monitoring, tracking and basic crafts. Research tells us that outdoor learning instils self-belief, confidence, learning capacity, enthusiasm, communication and problem-solving skills and emotional well-being.

Being primarily outdoors (in most weather) is stimulating and therapeutic and improves heightened senses that supports self-regulation.

Whether the young person wishes to work with animals, or nature, or both, all of our activities are carried out via an empowerment approach that focuses on building strengths while resolving any perceived difficulties.

Programmes allow the learners (where applicable) to also explore important topic areas, identified by Ofsted, such as:

  • Maintaining and forming positive relationships
  • Health and wellbeing (using the animals as a metaphor for transferable learning but also continuing to embed the personal development aspect of self-esteem),
  • Confidence and understanding their behaviour in everyday life and the impact this has on them as individuals as well as those around them.
Preparing for adulthood

Our programmes and activities also support the achievement of the four preparing for adulthood outcomes, outlined in the SEND Code of Practice for England. These are:

  • employment
  • independent living
  • friends, relationships, and community
  • good health

These cover the identified four broad areas of need in line with part 3 of the Children and Families Act 2014:

  • communication and interaction
  • cognition and learning
  • social, emotional, and mental health
  • sensory and physical need

The above may be difficult to achieve in mainstream classroom environments for some young people. However, our individual and small group, outdoor based and animal assisted / nature-based activities provide a safe and therapeutic environment to allow the young person to develop their communication skills and motivation to learn. There are countless naturally occurring opportunities to extend young people’s vocabulary (naming species), their Geography (relating to the wider world and how species vary), and to maths, such as looking at basic counting, through to using basic ethograms or use of transects for population abundance and distribution (all done in an age and stage appropriate way). Insect and minibeast surveys are also a great way to incorporate technology, such as phone Apps and Identification sites and to inspire learners to respect the environment and animals and increase awareness of the world around them.

How many sessions / hours and weeks can my child attend?

Our alternative education packages are booked by the term. Children can attend sessions of 2-5 hours in duration a day, and can attend more than once per week (subject to availability). Morning sessions are usually three hours (09:30-12:30), afternoon sessions are usually 1.30-4.30. We will try to work flexibly to meet the child’s needs when booking sessions.

Quick Enquiry

Send a quick enquiry using the form below and we will be in touch to discuss this topic further with you. Alternativly, you can send us a message using our contact page.


Equine Facilitated Learning

Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL) is simply a form of Animal Assisted Therapy that integrates the wonderful behaviours of Donkeys and a coaching approach from Lynn (AiMs EFL coach) to support the client in the development of life skills, particularly self-confidence, self-esteem, emotional regulation and empathy, helping children and adults to become emotionally and psychologically capable and resilient when dealing with stressful, challenging or new experiences.

Sessions with our donkeys also help develop adaptive and positive behaviours towards themselves and others and so enhance relationships.

How Does EFL Work?

When a child or adult  is able to get over their fear of interacting with a large and powerful  animal like a donkey, they begin to gain confidence, develop a sense of purpose and feel pride, joy and elation, all of which lead to increased self-esteem. Such experiences can change the neurology so that the next time they face a scary situation, they will know it’s possible to come out the other side of their fear. That confidence didn’t exist before – the experience with the donkey has rewired the brain so that they are more able to overcome their fears and approach difficult and challenging situations, in turn, they develop self-belief and resilience.

But, Why Donkeys?

Donkeys, like horses, are prey animals and as such, they monitor their environment, and the people in it 24/7. They rely on their strong social connections and bonds (such as the bond Rupert and Perry have with each other) alongside their keen flight instinct for survival. This requires the development of resilience and attentiveness to establish how their very subtle behaviour mirrors our own. Also, by working and observing these natural behaviours, we can help to become more aware of our behaviour, responses and actions and the need to acknowledge, and modify them both whilst with the donkeys and in everyday life (the learning transfer). 

Donkey’s offer something additional over horses, in that they are incredibly stoic and curious (read more about us in our animal section here) and whilst may initially be cautious with new people they are incredibly curious. Donkeys have a limbic system (part of the brain that deals with emotion, behaviour, motivation and memory) similar in size to that of the human. We find that Donkey’s nature and behaviour can create an environment that fosters positive and rewarding human-animal interactions. 

What is Equine Assisted Learning useful for?

As noted above EFL can be used as a tool for increasing confidence, reduced low mood and enhanced self-esteem, these concepts are broadly linked to emotional intelligence and EFL often focuses  on the following key areas: 

  • Self and social awareness
  • Self-management (emotional regulation, perception, realism)
  • Problem solving
  • Decision making
  • Communication
  • Relationship skills
How will an EFL session look?

EFL sessions are usually 60-75 minutes in duration and during this time the client(s) will usually be working with the donkeys at liberty (free roaming). Facilitation is akin to translating the learning between the client and the donkey, rather than to instruct, or teach (as might be seen in AAE. It is important to note that this is not therapy or psychotherapy in so far as it does not look back at the reasons for trauma , or for emotional/behavioural difficulties. Instead it helps the person move forward from their starting point. 

Do clients ride the donkeys?

Donkeys are not ridden by any clients in EFL. They are what we call ground based, meaning we interact with them, with our feet on the ground and in incorporating natural and stimulating activities for the donkeys.

Client enjoying a 1-1 session with our donkey Rupert, during an interactive Equine Facilitated Learning Session.

- Animals in Mind

Client enjoying a 1-1 session with our donkey Rupert, during an interactive Equine Facilitated Learning Session.

Do clients need to have horse or donkey experience?

There is no need for the client to have any experience in or around horses or donkeys. Indeed, in many cases, those with experience of horses or donkeys may be asked to keep an open mind and leave most of their prior knowledge at the paddock gate, so that they can immerse themself in the learning emerging from each and every interaction.

How many sessions will I need?

Whilst it is not possible to say for certain how many sessions a client might need, sessions are usually booked as 6 or 8 week (or session) programmes. It is preferable for continuity if these are weekly, but alternative patterns can be discussed and accommodated (subject to availability). We do not usually advocate single sessions but can offer a single session as a means of determining if EFL programmes are right for the client.

Quick Enquiry

Send a quick enquiry using the form below and we will be in touch to discuss this topic further with you. Alternativly, you can send us a message using our contact page.


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