and founder of Youth Off The Streets, Father Chris Riley, shows how horses are
helping to heal some of Australia's most damaged kids.
Father Chris Riley is no stranger to the countryside.
Raised on a dairy farm in Echuca, country Victoria, he has a love of animals
demonstrated by the loyal presence of his two Great Danes, Woods and Collingwood,
and macaw Dominique.
Father Riley, who set up the charity Youth Off
The Streets in 1991, has long recognised the healing qualities of animals
and the countryside in working with kids who have been subjected to neglect,
abuse, homelessness and drug addiction.
Many of the programs run for troubled teens by
the charity are based in rural areas, away from city vices, where residents
are helped in their rehabilitation by the healthy aspects of life that country
living can offer.
For the last four years, wild brumby horses have
played an important role in helping some of the most violent and angry kids
that the charity works with.
Father Riley was concerned when he heard wild
brumbies were being culled in national parks and came up with the idea of
rescuing them, at the same time addressing the acute anger management problems
exhibited by some of the kids in his programs.
Working with small numbers at a time, each youth
in the brumbies program is matched with a brumby horse and becomes responsible
for its care and training. Since the brumbies are wild, the youths quickly
learn that they cannot gain the horse's trust if they use their usual aggressive
style of communication. As most of the horses are experiencing human interaction
for the first time, the young people are truly challenged and must develop
incredible patience. The dividends are huge - once the bond is established
between horse and youth, the horse is tremendously loyal.
The training is a slow, tolerant process in which
it can take up to three months to achieve "join up" - the point
at which the trust and confidence is established between horse and human,
a touching moment evident when the wild horse actively seeks out physical
contact from his trainer.
Most of the youths taking part in the program
are males aged between 13 and 18 who behave violently or aggressively. The
majority have themselves been victims of violence and abuse in the family,
and so their style of communicating is learned behaviour that has enabled
them to survive in a harsh world where adults do not care about them.
The wild brumbies on the other hand, are herd
animals that are loyal, protect each other and care for each other. The program
therefore provides an innovative way of enabling the kids to learn some rules
about how a family operates so they will be able to bond and nurture their
own children in the future, forming the first step in undoing the generational
family breakdown they have been entrenched in.
Riley says that pairing the horses with the kids
was a perfect match. "There are so many parallels between the two groups.
Both would have been running wild and both would probably have wound up dead
if they weren't given a second chance. If you treat these horses roughly,
they'll turn aggressive, which is often exactly what has happened to the kids.
If both now work together, they'll help each other to trust again and get
a sense of achievement from each other's progress. And for these kids, that's
exactly what they need."
Indeed, staff at Youth Off The Streets have seen
a marked difference in the young people who have taken part in the program,
watching them grow self-esteem and develop a sense of responsibility. Says
Suzie Kenney, a teacher at Matthew Hogan College, one of Youth Off The Streets'
specialist schools where the participants are students, "Their anger
was reduced and they began to actively seek support for their problems. We
noticed that they were working together more harmoniously. By the end of the
year, this group of young people were strong role models in the school".
The brumbies program is just one of the many
innovative programs developed by Father Riley and his team to work with disadvantaged
teenagers. Youth Off The Streets provides more than 20 programs aimed at enabling
disadvantaged young people aged 12-21 to live independently or reunite with
family if appropriate. Outreach programs, specialist high schools, crisis
accommodation, medium to long-term residential facilities and mentoring all
work towards equipping these adolescents with the life skills, psychological
stability and education they need to integrate into society.
With the organisation's annual budget now exceeding
$14 million, donations are needed now more than ever.
To donate please call Toll Free 1800 062 288
or visit www.youthoffthestreets.com.au