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Students study horseback riding

In the aftermath of Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in 2014, the Association for Children at Risk, a part of the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council, set about giving children tools to cope with the traumatic events they endured the summer before last. Among other things, the children partook in a horseback riding workshop, which helped instill in them a sense of empowerment and confidence.

The workshop's success led the Hof Ashkelon educational department to open a horse-riding course at the new high school at Kibbutz Yad Mordechai. As part of the course, the students visit a nearby ranch once a week, where they learn how to care for the horses. In light of its success, the course was added as part of the three-year integrated agricultural curriculum the high school offers, which includes both theoretical and practical material. During their studies the students will visit the veterinary hospital at Beit Dagan and meet with members of the police's mounted unit.

Students in the horse riding and grooming class / Photo: Yifat Levi-Reich

"Many studies indicate that tending to animals helps enhance one's motivation to cope with stress, teaches social skills and instills values such as responsibility, reliability and self-confidence," said Rachel Ohana, the director of the Hof Ashkelon educational department. "We can see this happening in practice with our students and youth," she said.

Yair Farjoun, the head of the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council, added that "we make it possible for every student to acquire the tool kit that suits him or her, and we're thrilled over the opportunity to enrich and further develop a curriculum that provides an added bonus."

According to Vered Flamenbaum, the principal of the Yad Mordechai high school, "Certain aspects of the riding and grooming class grant the student a physical and emotional calm. The students develop a sense of responsibility, self-control and mutual obligation, toward one another, the horses, and toward all animals and people in general. We have been pleased to discover the magnitude of the positive impact this class has had on the students."

Another educational program to help students better express their emotions, which was also created as part of the lessons learned following Operation Protective Edge, saw children over a three-month period photograph scenery and landscapes in the Gaza and Hof Ashkelon regions depicting their home as a safe place -- despite the pervading security tensions. This project is also part of the Association for Children at Risk's work to incorporate creativity and art as tools with which to cope with difficult events.

Gadi Golan