Rural Recreation for Resilience: Youth Development and Life Skill Outcomes in 4 H Ontario Horse Clubs

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Sansom, Heather

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University of Guelph


Canada has widely acknowledged deficits in population physical and mental health, especially for marginalised populations such as those in rural areas. Low scores on youth wellbeing create a need for new options to promote physical activity and psycho-social skill development. While there are lower health indicators for rural areas, they are rich in assets for contextually relevant physical recreation and youth development activities. Equine activity, that is an Olympic sport, leisure activity, and physical and mental health therapy, is one such option. This study examined resilience and other life skills through participation in 4 H horse clubs. 4-H is an international youth development organization that has been in Canada for over 100 years. Arising at the same time as Scouts and other established youth development organizations, 4-H was uniquely dedicated to the needs of rural communities. Today clubs are in urban and rural areas, with a variety of topics. They are community-based, low-cost, and often inclusive of persons with different abilities. Horse clubs were targeted because of the wealth of literature available on therapeutic equine activity, and because of 4 H’s unique use of this form of physical recreation within a positive youth development framework. The study used a three-phase, mixed-method approach within a resilience lens: 1) an online survey to all horse club members (536, n = 56) and leaders (105, n = 4) across Ontario incorporating the Child and Youth Resilience Measure (CYRM-28) and Schwarzer and Jerusalem Self-Efficacy Scales; 2) key informant interviews (n = 10); and 3) group youth interviews with image elicitation (5 clubs, n = 30). Youth with different needs due to disability, cognitive ability, family situation, social status or other risk factors were included. Findings indicated high levels of resilience resources. Participants described resilience, together with other outcomes such as confidence and transferrable social and workforce skills. They also discussed processes that they felt facilitated these benefits. Findings are relevant to sport for positive youth development, therapeutic recreation, animal and nature-based programming, equine programming specifically, and to rural community development.



rural mental health, resilience, positive youth development, sport for youth development, youth development through sport, therapeutic recreation, experiential learning, outdoor learning, green care, 4-H, equine assisted learning, equine facilitated, equine therapy, outdoor experiential learning, adventure therapy, well-being, equine based activity, equine assisted activity, mental health promotion, rural wellbeing, nature based therapy, animal based therapy, green physical activity, nature deficit, youth development, youth resilience, healthy communities, rural youth, recreation therapy, community recreation, recreation therapy, history of recreation in Canada, rural recreation, rational recreation