SOME might question why Sarah Vivian left a teaching job to establish a venture where she is 'constantly blubbing'.

But the animal lover has no regrets about having to rely on sunglasses to hide her tears of joy.

She has set up an equine assisted learning centre in Dorset for children and adults with emotional and learning issues - and each day is incredibly rewarding, she says.

Learners are children, teenagers and adults who face challenges in the their everyday lives such as autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), emotional trauma, depression, Alzheimer's, disability, brain injury and have Special Educational Needs (SEN).

Horserenity is a small yard with eight ponies, chickens and rabbits based on a farm in Spetisbury, near Blandford. There is even a therapy dog that greets people in the yard.

Sarah has trained in Equine Assisted Learning (EAL), which is increasingly being recognised as a forward-thinking form of respite and therapy with lasting rewards.

Her 'learners' come to the paddocks and spend time with horses, and other animals, learning horsemanship skills and helping maintain the land and surroundings, which gives them an opportunity to reflect, achieve and increase their self-esteem.

Sarah, who lives in Sturminster Marshall, said: "The benefits can be as simple as someone who is not able to look people in the eye looking up at you and suddenly waving with a massive smile on their face.

"Teenagers who have been having some awful problems at school are able to go home to their parents and talk about what they've done.

"Children who are not able to have any physical contact with a parent can go home and hug their mum."

Horses are 'amazing souls', Sarah said. Being around them can change human brainwave patterns. The animals are naturally empathetic and people are able to calm down and be more focused when they are with them.

"We've been helping a stroke patient. She was with a pony who was gently nudging the side she couldn't move. How on earth this pony knew that was the affected area, I have no idea.

"There are emotional moments like that every day. I said that I'm going to have to start wearing sunglasses soon as I seem to be blubbing every day!"

Opening up an equine assisted learning centre has been a long-term goal of Sarah's.

She said: "It started when I was a university lecturer. My next door neighbour had an autistic son and we took him one day to see my horse.

"The horse seemed to know how to get to him on the inside and make it easier for him to communicate. I thought 'There must be something in this.'"

Sarah said she became 'increasingly frustrated' as a primary education teacher.

"There were so many pressures and tests pushed onto children who were showing obvious signs of stress and an inability to cope in a traditional school environment.

"There had to be a better way to boost their self esteem and confidence and watch them flourish."

In that moment Sarah decided to retrain as an equine assisted learning facilitator and trained with an organisation called Equine Assisted Qualifications, which is based in Shaftesbury.

Sarah offers OCN certified qualifications to the learners which gives them something attainable and tangible to work towards.

Many of the people who Sarah helps gets referred to her. A brain injury unit in Poole and charity The Alzheimer's Society also make referrals, while some people come to her off their own back.

There now seems to be increased awareness on how horsemanship can help people, Sarah said.

"Monty Roberts has done a film on horsemanship and Martin Clunes has written an article or two about it.

"People seem to be realising that adults and children can be helped by horses, particularly children who find it difficult to cope in the classroom or in the modern world."

People who are interested can come along to the centre for a taster session, Sarah says, where their needs can be assessed.

Sessions are generally organised on a one-to-one or small group basis – people might like to come along with other family members, work colleagues, a friend, or be on their own. It costs around £40 a session and they last around an hour.

After the sessions the centre is happy to liaise with schools, teachers and professionals as necessary and provide written reports.

Sarah says learners can improve their social interaction through putting hay out for the horses and grooming them. Picking up horse manure is a good tool for helping with mental arithmetic and multiplication while land management is another skill people can pick up.

"They are all real jobs that need doing in the yard," Sarah says.

"I don't invent things for them to do. They want to help and achieve something and they get to do that."

In bad weather people can take part in creative activities such as painting, collage, 3D modelling or preparing food.

Sarah is also hoping the centre can help servicemen and women from Blandford Camp who are experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Injury and young carers in the area who are looking for respite and time for themselves.

*To find out more about Horserenity, see or call 0773 4058783.