Charity's therapy pony helps at-risk youth ride the storm

Mr Danial said that Tata is so friendly that it would "just pop out his head" when he walks past the stable. Mr Danial Sadely, who was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder when he was younger, underwent counselling sessions to litt
Mr Danial Sadely, who was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder when he was younger, underwent counselling sessions to little effect. His condition improved at Equal-Ark. The charitable organisation provides equine-assisted learning for vulnerable young people.ST PHOTOS: MARK CHEONG
Mr Danial said that Tata is so friendly that it would "just pop out his head" when he walks past the stable. Mr Danial Sadely, who was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder when he was younger, underwent counselling sessions to litt
Mr Danial said that Tata is so friendly that it would "just pop out his head" when he walks past the stable.

In fast-paced Singapore, there are those in need. And there are those who take up the cudgels on their behalf. This is the first in a series of noteworthy causes that The Straits Times will be spotlighting.

Growing up a troubled boy in Ahmad Ibrahim Secondary School, Mr Danial Sadely often found himself in strife for being disruptive.

Diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder around the age of 13, he said he did not think about others. After going through unsuccessful counselling sessions, he was sent to Equal-Ark.

Using horses, the charity, located in the National Equestrian Park off Thomson Road, helps vulnerable young people remain engaged in the community through education and employment.

"I was super scared," he recalled. To him, the horses seemed like "monstrous" animals that could run over him at any time.

There, Mr Danial, now 21, said that controlling his behaviour took on a new importance. "We were scared around the horses and we didn't want to scare them, so we tried to control ourselves."

But then he built a special bond with a pony, Tata.

REVEALING THE INNER SELF

The horse becomes like a mirror. It's a mirror of yourself... of your issue that you're having in your life.

MR NG TZE YONG, chief executive of Equal-Ark, on why horses and ponies make for sensitive therapy animals. PEOPLE-LOVING PONY

PEOPLE-LOVING PONY

He's enormously generous as a pony. He's patient, giving, attentive and sensitive. And he yearns for companionship - people companionship.

MS MELISSA TAN, an Equal-Ark board member, on why Tata is such a good therapy animal.

MAN'S BEST FRIEND

He tends to be very happy when he sees his friends... walking by. Sometimes, when I walk the other horses, he'll just pop out his head (from his stable) like, 'Hey!' He's very friendly. He can't be alone.

MR DANIAL SADELY, who built a special bond with Tata.

Tata was first a polo pony, then joined Jurong Bird Park in 2013 to perform in its Kings of the Skies show. It had to find a new home when the show's format changed.

Last November, it was taken in by Equal-Ark to begin a new life.

Mr Danial, who went through Equal-Ark's rehabilitation programme and liked it so much he now works for it, said of Tata: "He tends to be very happy when he sees his friends... walking by.

"Sometimes, when I walk the other horses, he'll just pop out his head (from his stable) like, 'Hey!' He's very friendly. He can't be alone."

Mr Danial also revealed that his favourite moment was two or three days after the pony joined Equal- Ark, when he called the pony's name and Tata came up to him.

He added, laughing: "But if my colleagues called him, he wouldn't come out."

Through grooming, feeding and taking care of the 13-year-old pony, young people develop social skills and learn how to handle their emotions in a unique programme called equine-assisted learning.

It is a form of therapy Tata is particularly well suited for.

"He's enormously generous as a pony. He's patient, giving, attentive and sensitive," said Equal-Ark board member Melissa Tan.

"And he yearns for companionship - people companionship."

Despite the organisation's thin resources, Equal-Ark thought Tata would be very good with young people, and took it in.

Tata has an old injury from its polo days, and maintaining it will cost around $12,000 a year - excluding medical bills - so Equal-Ark has set up an online fund-raiser.

Chief executive Ng Tze Yong, 36,said horses and ponies, as "hyper-vigilant" herd animals, are very sensitive to emotions.

They can detect whether someone approaching them is nervous or angry.Mr Ng said this is why one needs to be confident with them.

"The horse becomes like a mirror. It's a mirror of yourself... of your issue that you're having in your life."

Mr Danial's experience bears this out.

He said when he worked with Astro, a "hyperactive" former race horse at the charity, he realised that whatever difficulties he was facing reflected the hardships he must have caused his parents.

"That's where... responsibility came, and I realised that what I had been doing was actually quite tough for them."

Because of his experience with Equal-Ark, his condition is now manageable.

"I really learnt a lot from the stables. Not just in my work life, but... in my outside life as well."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2017, with the headline 'Charity's therapy pony helps at-risk youth ride the storm'. Print Edition | Subscribe