The Alpha Mare Project
WITH is thrilled to announce an exciting new project. The Alpha Mare Course is funded by Mind, the leading mental health charity in England and Wales, and Agenda, the alliance for women and girls at risk, through the women’s mental health peer support grants programme. This programme responds to the needs of women experiencing disadvantage, particularly multiple disadvantage, who are frequently under-represented in services.
What is Peer Support?
Peer support differs from other forms of mental health services in important ways. It happens when people who have similar experiences of something difficult come together to support each other. It is through this development of meaningful, two-way relationships that peer support works. Crucially, the people involved play an active role in creating a safe environment for each other. Peer support can improve your emotional health, wellbeing and sense of belonging. A vital part of peer support is mutual respect; peer support aims to help both those giving and receiving support. Everyone's experiences are treated as equally important, so you might find this gives you a different experience to more traditional support options. Talking to people who have been through similar challenges may:
· help you to talk about what you are feeling and experiencing
· help you share suggestions for coping techniques and support options
· introduce you to ideas and approaches that have been helpful to others
· reassure you that you're not the only person who has felt like this
· increase your self-esteem and confidence over time help you see how common mental health problems are, and that everyone experiencing them deserves support
· provide a sense of belonging to a community of people with similar experiences
· give you a safety net to turn to at difficult times or if you’re at risk of crisis
· help you to find support that's right for you
· help you feel more empowered about your own wellbeing, if you feel disillusioned with the support you've received so far
How Can Horses Help?
The Alpha Mare Project is an exciting new peer support project with a unique selling point: horses. At WITH, we know that women in particular have a special affinity with them. As prey animals, horses are powerful yet vulnerable. Like the lead mare in the horse herd, women are nurturers. They are programmed by society to take care of others and are prone to make personal sacrifices. Due to putting their own needs last, they don't always access help for mental health. The Alpha Mare in a herd can also be an assertive leader and fierce protector who has strong and connected relationships with the others in her herd.
The Alpha Mare Course will enable women experiencing mental health issues to set boundaries, make healthy choices, build self-esteem and cope with change. As women join together to take part in a meaningful activity and bond over a shared interest, they gain the confidence and communication skills to talk about their mental health, form a supportive 'herd' and discover their inner Alpha Mare.
What do the sessions involve?
Groups of up to ten women or girls will attend once a week for two hours on a drop-in basis. That means that they can access the help when they need it but if illness, childcare or other commitments get in the way they can attend as and when they are able. They will spend part of their time helping to train and care for rescued horses. Each session will have a theme and an activity designed to spark discussion. Themes will include: self care, setting boundaries, relaxation or problem-solving and the equine activity will underline and consolidate the theme. For example, when focusing on self-care, we will groom, feed and provide enriching experiences for horses, then share ideas about self-care, how it can improve mental health and what the challenges are in regularly making time and space to care for ourselves. We will also put together self-care boxes that the women can take away to practice at home. The group will be open to women for as long as they need the support. When they feel ready, they will be provided with training and opportunities to move into a leadership role as peer mentors who help to lead activities, facilitate discussion and support new members.
Who Will Run the Sessions?
At WITH, we believe that everyone has what they need inside themselves. Rather than being led by an instructor, adviser or counsellor, the sessions will focus around the women and their own ideas, solutions, issues and triumphs. Women come up with their own solutions and support one another. They are in the driving seat and the facilitators simply ask pertinent questions to help them process the learning experience. The staff and peer mentors all have lived experience of mental health issues and can draw on their own experiences to support participants.
Our staff are trained Equine Assisted Learning professionals and their role is to create a non-judgemental learning and discussion environment. They do not offer advice, therapy or counselling. We aim that women will play an active part in leading the work. As participants become more confident, more assertive and more able to manage their own mental health, we anticipate that they will step up into peer mentor roles. They will be able to access training that certifies them as Assistant Equine Assistant Learning practitioners and help to deliver the equine aspect of the session. Through this, they will also gain facilitation and group management skills which enable them to lead or co-facilitate discussion, helping other women to process their experiences out loud, share solutions and air frustrations in a safe and constructive way.
Will I be Safe?
The staff are specially trained to ensure that participants are physically safe at all times. All of our horses have to pass a temperament assessment before they are allowed to work with clients. We have a range of up to date safety equipment and the centre where sessions take place is small and quiet. Only the group and the facilitators will have access at the time of the sessions and no one can enter the site without permission. Every session starts with a group confidentiality agreement where the women agree to keep one another physically and emotionally safe during their time together.
Who Can take Part?
The project will work mainly with women and girls aged eighteen and above who have a wide variety of disadvantages and life experiences but we can work with some 16 and 17 year olds on a case by case basis. What they will have in common is that their mental health is currently preventing them from living their lives to their fullest potential. Their challenges might include: surviving violence, abuse and coercion, mild to moderate mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and low self-esteem, eating disorders and postnatal mental health issues. They may have physical as well mental health issues due to disabilities. They may be in abusive environments or recently have left one. They may also have children or other relatives who are dependent on them.
How can I get Involved?
All you have to do is send an email to with the subject line ‘Alpha Mare Project’. Tell us a little bit about yourself, the difficulties you are facing and any needs or anxieties that you have. Don’t forget to let us know your availability so that we can match with a group that suits your needs and schedule. You don’t have to be referred by a professional or an organisation but you can ask your doctor, therapist, support worker or social worker to get in touch on your behalf if this is more comfortable for you.
What if I don’t have transport?
We will offer a weekly shuttle service from Porthmadog at no cost. We can also cover any travel expenses that you incur including the cost of bus or train tickets and petrol so that travelling to the project will not cost you anything.
Currently experiencing mental health difficulties. Formal diagnosis not necessary.
Free - This project is funded through the women's peer mental health support grants programme.
We can accept self-referrals as well as referrals from anyorganisation involved in a person's care.