Reigning Downs Hauora Centre is bringing together education and equine experience to make a difference for rangatahi in Murihiku. Owner Jade Ward created the centre, inspired by 32 years of experience with horses and 17 years in the education sector. She decided to create Reigning Downs to address gaps she saw in the way kids are taught in mainstream schools.
“I taught at a low decile school for 14 years and came to see a lot of flaws in the education system,” Jade explains. “I looked at the curriculum which stated the essential skills children are meant to leave high school with, but a lot of these kids were arriving with so much going on that it was extremely difficult for them to function in the classroom. I felt like it always seemed like a sense of failure for them, when there could be somewhere else out there in the world that they’d succeed.”
Jade started to imagine what that might look like, and it didn’t take long for her to see that working with horses had the potential to build those essential skills like perseverance, resilience, problem solving, confidence and leadership. “All of those things that children are meant to be learning in an academic setting, they shine through when working with hōiho,” Jade says. “When I was young, if I hadn’t had horses in my life, my personal direction could have taken a very different path. They have been such a good support for me and that’s why I had the idea to give others the chance to have that same experience.”
As demand for Reigning Downs has increased, the stable has grown from three horses to ten – a huge increase in operating costs that Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu has been proud to support with via Wave funding. “I always call the horses part of the team, so realistically I’m paying for them as employees too in terms of the food and maintenance that’s required to keep them performing well,” Jade says.
“At the same time, I don’t want to increase my prices. I don’t want to have to turn anyone away or make the price unreachable for whānau.”
In the future, Jade would like to see the Reigning Downs model replicated nationwide. “There are so many children out there who would benefit from this, as long as the concept is kept real and authentic,” she says. “I just want to see all children to feel confident to go out into the world, to be active members in society and to be happy.”