top of page

Alternative Education

At Cumbria Rural Academy we offer alternative education provisions using horses. Our purpose is to work with young people to help them find new opportunities and give them the tools and knowledge for their future. We specialise in working with young people that do not feel they fit in with traditional education or struggle with building relationships in the classroom.

Our Mission 

Harness Change at Cumbria Rural Academy CIC provides educational courses and training to promote fitness, physical and emotional wellbeing, as well as emotional awareness with due regard to the welfare of animals and wider ecological and environmental impact.

Our Ethos


Harness Change at Cumbria Rural Academy CIC is a programme of regular sessions rather than a one-off or infrequent visits. The cycle of planning, observation, collaboration, adaptation, and review links each session.

Life Skills

The programme aims to promote the holistic development of all involved, nurturing six life skills for all young people:

  • Building relationships,

  • communication,

  • confidence,

  • responsibility,

  • teamwork,

  • perseverance.

Approved Centre 

The programme takes place in our BHS Approved riding centre. This link to nature, horses and the outdoors, in a safe environment, supports the development of a lifelong relationship between the young person and the natural world.


The programme offers young people the opportunity to take supported risks appropriate to the environment and themselves.

Through this, they expand their confidence, curiosity, and learning. 


The programme uses a range of awards and achievements for everyone. This creates a community for development, learning and celebration.

Professional Coaches

The programme is delivered by our centre coaches, who continuously maintain and develop their professional practice.

Our coaches are trained to engage with young people and guide them through their chosen education pathways to achieve their individual learning outcomes.

About Our Programmes

With each of our programmes, students will have the opportunity to work alongside our coaches and staff members in a working yard. This means they can participate in a professional environment handling clients and horses. This live working environment will allow students to gain real-world work experience and have positive adult interactions while working towards their accredited qualifications.  Working in a vocational learning environment will assist them with managing their emotions, behaviours and conduct whilst working within the team.

As prey animals, horses are constantly alert to potential danger and are extremely perceptive of their environment and those around them. They are herd animals, highly aware of the intentions and non-verbal communication of others. These cues are highlighted to the student by our coaches to encourage students to explore responses to their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.

Throughout the accredited course, students will be required to use their functional skills to solve problems, complete worksheets and calculate different aspects required for the care of the horse. Using horses as a real-world example, we can educate students in the application of academic skills. Some examples of these are:

  • Writing daily reports to hand over to the next team,

  • using maths to calculate the amount of feed needed.

  • learning the biology of the horse with the digestive system, skeleton, and functions of the horse's body.

  • Calculating costs on spreadsheets for management of stock, feed purchases and equipment.


We moved to Bigland Hall to access the Harness Change course. The children at Appletree Treatment Centre have complex social, emotional and mental health needs that can present themselves in many ways.

The whole process with Bigland has been a pleasure so far; from communication and filling in the forms, to booking the course on a weekly basis.

The staff have been so helpful. From the moment we arrived we were greeted by Jessie McGregor who immediately made the children feel at ease. She explained the rules of the yard and how the children were expected to behave on foot and whilst around the horses.

With our children, no day is the same and they can begin to feel emotional dysregulated at any point. The team at Bigland understand this and allow the children to explore the feelings they are presented with at that time. The children are encouraged to be very ‘hands on; with the horses, as well as learning the importance of what they are doing in relation to how a horse should be looked after and why.

The course in itself offers the children the chance to interact positively with a horse and to understand that you don’t always need words for communication (a few of our children have remarked that the horse has read their mind!). We have a member of our group that can be very reactive and can have verbal outbursts, yet when he is around the horses he is very different. He has formed a bond with the horse that he has been working with and when he is brushing the horse you can see the calming effect that it has on him.

Jessie has a really special way with the children and from the moment she met them she has been consistent and used appropriate humour and to explain the rules around animals. This works well with our children and the way they react to her is great. Jessie has instilled confidence in our children, from handling the horses, and when mounted and being in mutual control with the horse.

Not only are the staff and horses at Bigland Hall fantastic but the opportunity to access this course has already had such a beneficial effect, on a social and emotional level. Any setting or child who has the opportunity to participate should, as the benefits are far reaching.

Simone Fearnhead, Assistant Teacher 

Request a Prospectus

Thanks for submitting!
We’ll get back to you shortly.

Who Can Register

Our alternative education programmes have been designed for delivery to the following groups:

  • Young people aged 5 to 15 who are either permanently excluded, at risk of permanent exclusion or who have special educational needs or disabilities (SEND).

  • Young people aged 16 to 25 who are not in employment, education, or training (NEET) therefore at risk of becoming socially excluded with income below the poverty line and without the skills to improve their economic situation.

Find Out More

Our standard programmes run on Tuesdays from 10 am – 2 pm. Our qualifications are on the RQF meaning students can gain credits for their education.

For information about the learning pathways and pricing, please request our prospectus. 

bottom of page