IF you head into the yard at 9am in Festina Lente, an Equestrian Learning Centre, based in Bray, Co Wicklow, you will hear the usual noise of a busy yard - the scrape of forks and squeak of wheelbarrows - but you’ll also hear a good bit of banter and some laughter too.

This added chatter is the sound of 10 or so young people, between the ages of 16 and 27, mucking out our horses’ stables and catching up on the craic as they work hard together as a team.

These young men and women are all students attending our Equestrian Training Programme, either on our QQI Level 4 or Level 5 in Horsemanship. Our training is slightly different to other courses offered, as we are a specialist training provider for Kildare and Wicklow Education Board (KWETB). Our Level 4 course can be taken over three years with a mix of practical and academic training, an individual training plan and a mentor who offers care and support for our students.

Mentors help students with their progression on the course but are also there to coach them through difficulties encountered in their personal lives, to plan towards their personal goals and to look ahead to their future ambitions.

All of our students have a reason why they are working with us rather than in a conventional equestrian college; some are on disability allowances, some are early school leavers and a few have a learning or physical disability which means they may need extra support to complete the QQI course. However, all of them have a passion for working with horses and are looking to leave us with a recognised qualification, able to demonstrate the highest standards in horse care and equine welfare and a lot of optimism for whatever their next step might be.

Students learn first how to safely handle horses, how to read their body language and to give consistent signals even when just leading to the field; because, of course, all of this feeds in to the horses’ welfare, behaviour and supports their work in our riding and therapeutic riding lessons.

All the elements of horse care are taught by equine professionals with years of experience and are assessed through practical demonstrations, project work and some written examinations.

In addition, Level 4 students receive two riding lessons per week while Level 5 students develop their skills for starting young horses. Other modules of study include Communications, Health Related Fitness, Stable and Yard, Horse Riding Theory and Work Experience, which allows for the creation of a career plan, CV and two weeks’ experience in an equestrian business.

All potential students are offered a one-week orientation where they are invited to join in the programme, working on the yard alongside the other students and attending classes. After this week, working as part of a team with the other students and meeting the staff and horses here, students will quickly know if this course is for them without first having had to commit to a move.

Due to the nature of Festina Lente’s social enterprise activities, students also get added experience; leading for lessons, watching the veterinary surgeons and farriers at work, taking part in therapeutic lessons and Equine Assisted Learning sessions and access to extra youth supports from our Saol Anais Day Service programme.

We also organise regular days out for equine-related activities, including Goffs Sales, the Irish National Stud, a visit to Coolmore Stud and the TRI Equestrian Store, plus some days out purely for fun.

Career opportunities

Combine this with opportunities for work experience at each level, our students are left with a bucket-load of experience, inspiration for their future career path and a chance to develop life and communications skills, leaving the course with confidence and a real sense of achievement.

We take students on a rolling basis, so you can decide to join the programme at any point in the year. If you are on a disability allowance or a social welfare payment, you may be eligible for a KWETB training allowance and may also qualify for additional meal or accommodations allowances.

If this sounds like the sort of programme you might be interested in, please get in touch with us and one of our friendly ETP Facilitators will give you a call back to explain more and arrange an orientation week for you to see what we are all about!

Contact details

Website: www.festinalente.ie

Email: etp@festinalente.ie

Case Study

Amy Sherman

AMY is 19 years old and joined the programme in September, straight after leaving school. She moved from Co Laois to join the course and lives with a family in Bray Monday to Friday, travelling home for the weekends.

Amy has additional learning needs which means she needs a little extra help to complete her classroom-based modules and benefits from lots of explanation and encouragement in learning her duties and horse care on the yard.

In only one term, Amy has gained confidence, has learned to live independently and is progressing well in her riding, and she has worked really hard to get her beds done quickly, efficiently and beautifully finished.

We are supporting her with her ambitions to improve her riding skills and to get her driving licence in the next year or so – the future is looking very bright indeed for Amy.

“Right from the start I felt welcomed and safe at Festina Lente. I was nervous riding at the beginning because it was very different from what I’d done in the past but now I’m riding the bigger horses and feel so much more confident. I love all the friends I’ve made and am really happy I decided to do the course.”