Mane Chance Sanctuary and Mental Health Awareness Week

I had the pleasure of visiting the Mane Chance Sanctuary last Monday 10th May, when the founder Jenny Seagrove and some of her colleagues have me a tour and told me more about how Mane Chance not only rescues horses in distress but can also help the mental health of people of all ages through contact with the horses. VantagePoint has long supported Mane Chance through our Jottings and the occasional Profile piece, but this was the first time I had been to visit them on site. It was an additional pleasure as my youngest niece, Eve, has recently joined them to work there as a groom and I was able to surprise her when we bumped into one another!

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and this is how Mane Chance describe part of their ethos: To provide relief for children, young people and vulnerable people, suffering from physical and/or mental disability, through the provision of managed work with equines in a therapeutic environment, To help meet their needs and to enable them to participate more fully in society; also to increase the confidence and capacity of children, young people and vulnerable people in need of support through interaction with the horses.

Jenny told me a story about how they had helped a young child:

Child C was adopted, but unfortunately the adoption failed, and he was readopted. Following the second adoption he was so filled with anger and mistrust, that his new parents could not get near him to hold him or comfort him, and his regular emotional meltdowns were a real problem. His parents tried everything to reach him, but nothing worked.

His Grandparents heard about Mane Chance and arranged a visit. On his first day, he refused to get out of the car. Over several visits, slowly and surely and with patience, he overcame his fear and began to visit on a regular basis. He was introduced first to the Shetland ponies – being small they are the least intimidating of the herds – and his confidence began to grow as did his ability to keep himself calm – something very necessary when being around our rescued horses.

In time Child C met all our horses and when he heard the story of Tailor – one of our geldings who had been abandoned at 3 months old- something in him clicked. He felt a kinship with Tailor, and the horse seemed to feel the same as they developed a strong bond. He realised that if Tailor could recover from being abandoned, then so could he. As part of his journey, our community leader suggested that he could spend some time hugging Tailor, which he did. As the weeks passed, the next step was to ask his mother to hug Tailor at the same time as Child C. After a while, when they both felt safe enough to do so, they were encouraged to hug each other – which they did. This allowed Child C’s mother to hold and comfort him away from the sanctuary, when he became upset, which has been transformative in their relationship.

My niece Eve with one of their Shetland Ponies

Jenny also spoke about their Chance2Be project, which is a mindfulness-based programme using the human-horse connection to reinforce the teaching.  Aimed at young people who have been referred for their mental health condition as an early intervention, Chance2Be has been running since 2017.  Again, she told me about a recent success:

Child A came onto our Chance2Be course at a time when they were very close to being permanently excluded from school. They were living with their mother in a hostel because they had been victims of domestic abuse and their life was chaotic and unsettled. On the rare occasions that they appeared at school they chose to be mute as a defensive strategy, using their behaviour to overshadow their learning needs. This meant that they did not have to engage or interact in lessons and it also served them against peer bullying. Their self-esteem and confidence was on the floor they had begun to self-harm and they were quite literally in the ‘last chance saloon’.

As they went through the Chance2Be course they started to relax and open a little in response to being in the non-judgmental environment of Mane Chance, and because of the immediate connection they made with the horses. The feeling of being able to care for something and the purpose it gave them, began to unlock something in them.  Slowly they began to communicate and take directions, and their calmness around the horses was very impressive. They also chose to attend school and re-engage.

After they finished both level one and level two of the Chance2Be course, their school approached us and asked if we would take them on as work experience so that they could continue their development in a space where they felt safe and purposeful, using the techniques we had taught them. We agreed and they attended Mane Chance one day a week as part of her tailored curriculum.

This was so successful for Child A that the school asked if we would consider taking them on as an apprentice, when they left school at 16, which we agreed.  By this time, they were back at school, reading and communicating, and even showing a sense of humour! By their own admission, their teachers didn’t know how to talk to them as they didn’t recognise that this was the same Child A that only 9 months ago had been silent and uncommunicative.

It really is fascinating just how animals, in this case horses, can help deal with mental health issues. It certainly made me realise how Mane Chance really is a force for good beyond the wonderful work they do in rescuing and giving sanctuary to the 34 horses they look after. It takes £400,000 a year to keep this charity going and with Covid, they have really suffered financially as all fundraising activities have had to be put on hold. With restrictions easing, they do hope that they can start anew and an Open Day is being considered for the summer.

For more information and future events, please visit www.manechancesanctuary.org.

Stefan Reynolds, Editor

History of Mane Chance

In August 2011, Jenny Seagrove, received a call; a woman who had rescued many animals from terrible circumstances had got into financial trouble and the animals hadn’t eaten properly for four days. Jenny sprang into action, and just over a month later Mane Chance Sanctuary was a registered charity, with 41 horses, two sheep, a goat, hens, and a cow in its care.

The next challenge was to find somewhere the new menagerie could live as they were being evicted from the farm that they were on.  A phone call or two later, and Monkshatch Garden Farm, in Compton, was made available. The owner was selling but told gave the farm rent free until he sold it.

Spring 2012 came and so did our first fundraiser- Rockin’ Horses at the Playhouse theatre in London’s West End. This was a great success and brought in some much-needed funds. In May, the farm became available to us to buy. Obviously, the Charity was in no position to do this, but Jenny and two trustees formed a partnership and began the process of purchasing our new home.

In 2013 work began to improve the Sanctuary and turn it into a restful yet practical site began. We worked tirelessly to raise enough money each year, not only to feed the horses and keep them safe and healthy; but to develop the Sanctuary into a place of calm and tranquillity.  The biggest project to date was the building of the respite bard in 2016 -this allowed for year-round visits by local groups and organisations. Suddenly Mane Chance, still a very small charity, was starting to become something so much bigger, in heart and in reputation.

In 2018 our community work launched with the employment of a Community Co-ordinator.  We started to work with local schools supporting children with additional needs, including those on the autistic spectrum, those who self-harm, have eating disorders and a range of physical and mental disabilities.  In addition, we forged relationships with local charities and care homes, offering visits to Mane Chance for their patients.

Finally, the dream that Jenny Seagrove had those years ago has come to fruition.  Our horses are at the heart of what we do, and we continue to improve their environment and offer them continued safety and security, teaching our values of consideration, positive re-inforcement and compassion to all who spend time with them.

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