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Down on the ranch in South West Victoria - Mackillop's Equine-Assisted Social and Emotional Learning Centre

Working with horses is a recognised therapy to help reduce stress and lower blood pressure with evidence showing horse therapy can help treat conditions like addiction, problems with mental health, PTSD and autism. Now it is being used to assist vulnerable young people living in out of home care.

In a first for South West Victoria, Mackillop Family Services is using the therapeutic benefits of working with horses to help young people at its Equine-Assisted Social and Emotional Learning Centre, south of Warrnambool.

The centre, which opened at Mepunga in 2017, is available to children living in Mackillop’s residential care houses and in foster care. The social and emotional learning program forms an important part of Mackillop’s commitment to reduce young people’s dependence on long-term welfare and teach them social and life skills. An additional benefit is that skills developed through the equine program may also assist young people in finding employment in the farming, agriculture or horse-related industries.

The centre was established thanks to generous support from philanthropic trusts and foundations in the Warrnambool area. Additional philanthropic support was provided in 2019 to expand the program to a disability farm stay at Koroit, enabling MacKillop to provide equine therapy to an even greater number of children and young people in care.

Warrnambool Area Manager, Cameron Burgess, says working with horses, “assists in the healing process for young people who have experienced trauma. The kids learn how to earn a horse's trust and co-operation which is a valuable lesson in how to keep your own emotions in check!"

One of the program’s main aims is to teach young people social and life skills. Our equine learning centre brings a new dimension to equipping young people with the skills they need to live independently and be more connected to their communities.

– Warrnambool Area Manager, Cameron Burgess

Centre staff, who trained at the Equine Psychotherapy Institute in Daylesford, work with young people in showing them how to care for and respect horses, and develop a sense of ownership and achievement in this care.