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12-year-olds Joyce Ratahi and Caylin Mitchell, and 11-year-old Maria Angel give the experience a “ten out of ten out of ten”. PHOTO: KELLEY TANTAU

‘Incredibly courageous’: school seeks help through horses

The kids at Kaiaua School were disconnected.
There were cracks in their communication, and through all the stress of Covid, they had forgotten how to be kind.
Seeing what was happening in the playground and in the classroom, Kaiaua’s principal, Matua Karlos Bosson, sought out ways to make things right again.
And as it turns out, horses have been just the thing to remind the pupils what it means to be compassionate.
On a sunny Monday morning at Annarehab in Miranda, young students – aged between 10 and 13 – lead their blindfolded partners and their chosen horses through a series of obstacles.
“You did it, you did it!” one of them cries out. “Good job!”
It’s a jovial exclamation, a verbal pat-on-the-back by a peer, and it’s these sorts of interactions that had been missing from the firth-side Hauraki school.
“Last year, we had a few things happen at the school, and I know that it stemmed from Covid and other stuff,” Matua Bosson tells The Profile.
“And even though we’ve got a small class, the different types of behaviors that we were experiencing around the school, we just knew something was going on that we needed to get to the bottom of. It was just that niggly communication that was coming through, and kids not treating each other respectfully.”

Hoping to rid the young students of their stress, anxiety, and trauma, and to better their mental health and well-being, Matua Bosson contacted Maria Baigent, who, alongside her daughter Anna, runs the equine rehabilitation farm Annarehab.
The pair have taken in ex-racehorses with injuries or illnesses and have transformed them into therapy horses that work with a variety of people of all ages, genders, and outlooks.
Matua Bosson, who knows first-hand how a horse can work wonders on a person’s well-being, asked Maria to present her team-building programme to the school’s Board of Trustees.
The board committed to funding the programme for 14 of its students for seven weeks. However, there is hope that the Ministry of Education can share some, if not all, of the cost.
“I’m humbled that the school picked us and I am humbled that they were brave enough to go outside and find help for their children. I think that is incredibly courageous,” Maria Baigent says.
“I am so proud to be involved with the school, but I am sad, because I’ve been a teacher and a deputy principal and the only sadness I have is that they are funding this themselves.”
Maria is Annarehab’s certified equine assisted learning facilitator, and with some 25 years of classroom experience, she’s been drawn to helping children who experience difficulties learning in a traditional school environment.
Her 12-week course typically costs $50 a session per pupil, but Maria is charging the school $30 per student. They’ve just finished their seven weeks, and hope to find additional funds to complete the further five weeks.
“I want to see the kids helped,” Maria said. “When we first started, they were disconnected, they were shut-down, you couldn’t get a word out of them. Now, you can feel the change in the atmosphere.”

Just ask the students – 12-year-olds Joyce Ratahi and Caylin Mitchell, and 11-year-old Maria Angel desperately want to see out another five weeks on the ranch.
“We’re a small school and I would love the ministry to find the money to fund us to be in this programme, even for more schools because this is a great opportunity for us,” Joyce says.
“You learn confidence, teamwork, leadership, trust… you learn heaps of things from this programme and we’re really lucky that our board has found the money to let us come here.”
Caylin says the horses have been their teachers, and they’ve not only learned about courage, but consent, too.
Overall, the trio give the experience a “ten out of ten out of ten”.
Parent Michelle Whakaari – whose son Nate is busy leading his friend through the course – drives a carload of Kaiaua students once a week to the Baigent Rd farm and says she hears all the “amazing things” the kids have to say about the programme.
“Nate was quite anxious about it, but he gave it a go and he was really proud of himself.
“I’ve seen really good things with all the kids that have come,” she says. “From being a bit not sure… and now, they look pretty sure to me.”
And though the term has all wrapped up and the students’ return to the ranch is unknown, Matua Bosson and his principal relief teacher Darryl Manson, knows one thing for sure: the mental well-being of the children has improved.
“There used to be elements of conflict, but on that very first session, there was none whatsoever on any level, and as a teacher, that is huge,” Matua Manson says.
“There’s no longer any niggles.”