Shetland ponies join Rugby School's Chapel congregation to promote charity

Two miniature Shetland ponies trotted up the aisle of Rugby School’s grand Chapel last week to help promote the work of the local charity Circles Network.

Sixth form pupils dedicate their Wednesday afternoons to the School’s Community Action programme and three pupils have chosen to volunteer at Circles Network based in Rugby.

Part of the work of the charity, which builds inclusive communities on the foundations of justice, advocacy, empowerment and friendships, is to use equine facilitated learning techniques, providing therapeutic and educational opportunities to children, young people and adults through working with horses on the ground.

Pupils Iona Craig, Anousha Salehi and Maddie Thompson work within one of the equine projects helping disadvantaged and disabled children and young people to benefit from interacting with horses.

It has been shown the technique provides great benefit to such individuals increasing their communication, social skills and improving their self-esteem.

Iona wanted to raise awareness of the charity with her peers and it was her idea to bring the ponies not just to School, but into the Chapel where the whole School gathers for the morning service.

“What makes Circles so special,” she said, “is that every session I have attended has been different. I particularly enjoy Saturday Club as the same group of children come every week, allowing us to build strong relationships with each other.

“This in turn creates a genuine and inclusive atmosphere that I have never encountered elsewhere. The horses are all fantastic and really adjust their behaviour to what each child needs - it doesn't matter whether you have experience of horses before or not.”

Circles Network Chief Executive, Mandy Neville, who created the charity in 1994 joined the ponies with her colleague, Equine Project manager Rhianne McCallion.

The pair outlined their work to the congregation who were fascinated to see the two ponies actually in Chapel standing happily next to the Chaplain Richard Horner.

Mandy said: "Working in Partnership with Rugby School has provided many rich rewards. The students have been exceptional in their commitment to Circles Network; their enthusiasm is infectious and their warm, hardworking and accepting approach has enabled the children and young people we work with to shine and develop. We are grateful to Rugby School for promoting this strong community."

Community Action leader, Adam Naylor, also presented a cheque for £500 on behalf of the School. Pupils raised the money through various initiatives including bag packing at Asda during the Christmas period.

To find out more about Circles Network, donate or volunteer please call one of the team on 01788 816671 or email


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