Equine Tutor Deepens Social Service Worker Learning

November 6, 2023
Equine Visit for SSW Class on Castlegar Campus with Student

On a beautiful autumn day in the back lot of the Selkirk College’s Castlegar Campus, class was in for students taking the Social Service Worker Program. The mentor on this day was a stunning 28-year-old gelding named Mohawk.

One piece of the nine-month certificate program that provides learners career-ready education, the class was introduced to the social skills development work that takes place at Little Oasis Equine Matters near Trail. Led by Oasis program director Leah Hope, 22 college students gained deeper understanding about unique equine-assisted work that’s designed to develop customized learning experiences focused on enhancing specific skills for participants.

“Bringing Mohawk and Leah to the campus provides a unique and engaging opportunity for students to learn about the social skills and support programs offered at Little Oasis,” says Rhonda Belczyk, the instructor of the Community Resources class. “It’s important for students to understand there are multiple approaches to delivering social services and programs, and to highlight similarities and differences in how programs meet the needs of their clients. Also, they're able to see in a real-world way how professional skills, knowledge and concepts are applied.”

Primarily focused on youth, Little Oasis empowers participants with skills and abilities to conquer negative influences that surround them. With programming that is open to all ages, the goal is provide hope and healing to those who suffer from substance abuse, behavioral issues, attention deficit disorder, eating disorders, physical, emotional or sexual abuse, depression, anxiety, and relationship problems.

Equine Visit for SSW Class on Castlegar Campus with Class
Students in the Social Service Worker Program were introduced to Mohawk and the team at Little Oasis Equine Matters. Program director Leah Hope brought the beautiful gelding to the Castlegar Campus to explain the life skills development programming for youth and adults that takes place near Trail.

Hope explained that in a horse’s world, the rules are clear and easy to understand. Being prey animals, nature has provided horses with astute senses and instincts that allow them to discern the difference between a calm, non-threatening approach versus an anxious, nervous energy or threatening body posture. Building a positive bond between participants and equine team members like Mohawk, trust and respect are learned with a compassionate approach.

“Horses don’t respond to what you want, it’s how you feel,” says Hope, an alumna of the Selkirk College Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program.

The Social Service Worker Program places focus on hands-on learning and skill development. Graduates of the nine-month certificate program have a variety of options for both in-demand careers or further education. Many of the students will go onto the second year with an ability to earn a Social Service Worker Human Services Diploma or Child & Youth Care Human Services Diploma. Both two-year programs also have transfer opportunities to partner universities where four-year degrees can be completed.   

Selkirk College has a long-standing relationship with Little Oasis. Hope is a member of the Program Advisory Committee and helps with ongoing mentorship of college students through practicums at Little Oasis.

“It's critical for School of Human Service students to know about the network of community services and resources available to future clients, so they can make appropriate referrals and connect clients to the services they need,” says Belczyk, a leader in the provincial social work field for more than 25 years before shifting to teaching at Selkirk College in 2018. “Experiences like this also give students opportunities to explore different areas of social service work, and help them decide what areas of practice they're interested in.”

Learn more about educational pathways offered through the School of Health & Human Services.

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