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How horses break down our barriers

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Eileen Bennett and Mary Mitchell of Horses Connect. “There isn’t an awareness of this kind of work yet in Ireland,” the women say of Equine Assisted Learning and Therapy. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Lifestyle –  Judy Murphy meets the women behind Horse Connect which offers a range of unique equine therapy services

A large paddock on a farm to the west of Galway City occupied by just a horse and pony might not seem like an obvious place to learn more about human behaviour. Nor does it initially look like a place that might help children and adults with physical, sensory and intellectual disabilities.

But this yard is home to a new business called Horse Connect Enterprises, which offers a range of training and therapy services, based around horses and humans working together to break down barriers and change people’s behavioural patterns

Eileen Bennett and Mary Mitchell of the organisation explain that the services offered depend on clients’ need. They include Therapeutic Riding, Equine Assisted Learning and Equine Assisted Therapy.

But before the interview proper begins, the women invite me to join the horse and pony in the paddock. Cue a brief lesson into Equine Assisted Training.

A little grey-white pony called Polly has her head over the gate as we approach, consumed with curiosity about the stranger – me. The other creature, an elegant bay mare, pays little attention.

We enter. Acting as though I were a client, Mary and Eileen suggest that I select the animal I want to engage with and approach it. I head towards the bay. She has no interest in me. Polly, however, does nuzzling and playfully pushing her head into my hand.

Eventually, too, she moves off, but we remain inside the paddock.

A few minutes later, there’s drama. The bay mare has become curious and moves closer. The minute she does, Polly goes ballistic, neighing and head-tossing and kicking her heels to beat the band.

We stand and watch as the animals repeat this pattern of behaviour several times.

Eventually Eileen turns to me, and asks, ‘what do you think was happening there?’ I offer my impressions and she nods.

In a short few minutes, Eileen and Mary have observed how I reacted when I was rejected by my chosen animal while being pursued by the animal I didn’t want. By asking for my opinion, they are encouraging me to draw my own conclusions about the incident.

Meanwhile, the rivalry between the horse and pony as to which is dominant offers a metaphor for the way humans behave towards each other.

After that brief experience, we humans leave the arena, but had it been a real training session, I would have had further exercises with the horses to provide even more insight into human behaviour, according to Mary and Eileen.

Both are passionate horsewomen and both have first-hand experience of how horses can benefit humans.

“Horses respond with unique insight into who we are in the moment. They are profoundly gifted reflectors of our true selves because their very survival depends on reading us right. Horses know when we’re grounded, focused and real.

“And they know immediately when we’re not – even if we don’t know it ourselves. Also, the horse never sees a person with a problem, challenge or issue. The horse only sees a person,” they say.

Mary is a riding instructor and the mother of a teenage daughter with special needs. To help her daughter, Mary trained as a Special Needs Assistant some years ago. And started integrating her new knowledge with her equine work – her daughter loves horses and is now a Special Olympic rider.

Mary then got an opportunity to train in Therapeutic Horse-riding, via the Connemara Pony Breeders Society, Forum Connemara and Paving the Way (a support group for people with disabilities).  Therapeutic Horse-riding used for children and adults with a variety of physical, cognitive, emotional and developmental disabilities. This was the beginning of Mary’s journey to co-establishing Moycullen-based Horse Connect.

For Eileen, the realisation that horses could help people with a range of problems went back even further.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

CITY TRIBUNE

Water outages across Knocknacarra and Barna due to burst watermain

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Galway Bay fm newsroom – There are water outages across Knocknacarra and Barna this morning due to a burst watermain

The burst is in a rising main from Clifton Hill in Galway City to Tonabrucky Reservoir

The city council and Irish Water says while every effort is being made to maintain supply to as many customers as possible, the burst has caused water levels in Tonabrucky Reservoir to deplete

Houses and businesses in Knocknacarra, Barna and surrounding areas will experience low pressure and outages.

Dedicated water service crews have mobilised and repairs are underway and are expected to be completed by mid-afternoon.

Traffic management will be in place and Letteragh Road will be closed between Sliabh Rua and Tonabrucky Cross until 6pm.

Householders and businessses are being asked to conserve water where possible to reduce the pressure on local supplies and allow reservoir levels to restore.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Woman sustains serious injuries after being struck by firework in Eyre Square

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Gardaí are appealing for witnesses after a young woman was struck in the face by a firework in Eyre Square in the city overnight.

It happened shortly after midnight and gardai say it’s understood the firework had been launched from close to the Tourist Information Kiosk.

The young woman suffered serious injuries and was hospitalised as a result.

Gardaí understand there was a large group of people in Eyre Square at the time and are now asking that any person who may have witnessed the incident make contact with the investigating team.

In particular Gardaí are appealing to anyone who may have video footage of the incident, either on mobile phone, CCTV or dash-cam to make contact with them.

This incident comes just days after a policing committee meeting was told of increasing concern about anti social behaviour around Eyre Square.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Garda chief suggests closing Eyre Square to curb anti-social behaviour

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Closing Eyre Square at night-time was among the radical suggestions put forward by Galway’s top Garda this week – in response to claims that the city centre’s famous landmark had become a ‘no-go area’ after dark.

It comes as Gardaí confirmed that since January they issued almost 500 fines for breaches of the city’s alcohol bylaws, which prohibit the consumption of alcohol in public spaces.

Responding to claims that people were afraid to visit parts of the city centre at night due to anti-social behaviour, Chief Superintendent Tom Curley said that the authorities might have to look at closing Eyre Square at certain times.

Chief Supt Curley also said that improved lighting and better CCTV were other tools that could be used to deter anti-social behaviour and to detect crime in the city centre.

“I’d need another five officers in there – and I haven’t got them,” said Chief Supt Curley of the requirement for more Gardaí on patrol in Eyre Square.

He was responding to a charge by former mayor of Galway, Councillor Frank Fahy, who said Eyre Square was dangerous at night. “It’s a no-go area,” he said at a City Joint Policing Committee (JPC) meeting this week.

Cllr Fahy said that the illegal activity and anti-social behaviour in the city centre was a product of the Covid-19 pandemic and people socialising outdoors. Eyre Square was safe pre-Covid, he said.

In a written reply to the JPC, Chief Supt Curley said that anti-social behaviour issues had been ‘de-escalated’ along the city’s canals, Woodquay and Spanish Arch ‘as a result of extra Garda patrols’.

“The resulting consequences have led to crowd movement from these areas (and they) are now congregating at Eyre Square. Garda attention is concentrated on Eyre Square, however the return of students and the continued restrictions has led to increased numbers,” he said.

(Photo: a scene from Eyre Square at night this week taken from a video circulated on social media)

This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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