Lead-Up’s goal is to reduce violence by creating peaceful leaders through workshops with horses. The participants, aged 15 to 21, are welcomed into a compassionate and non-judgmental environment, far removed from the violence, abuse, addiction and neglect they often experience at home.
The Lead-Up® program is based around workshops with horses in which participants are introduced to humane ways of handling and interacting with horses. Participants discover non-violence and non-aggression for themselves through interactions with horses and principally through the experience of Join-Up® with a horse, the non-violent training system designed by Monty Roberts, world-renowned horseman and author of The Man Who Listens to Horses.
Convinced there must be a more humane and effective system to train horses, Monty created Join-Up®, a consistent set of principles based on the horse’s inherent body language and herd-behaviour. The result of Join-Up® is a willing partnership based on mutual respect and trust.
“The Lead-Up Program helps participants learn how to improve their self-awareness and regulate their body language and emotions through specialized interactions with horses, and specifically through the embodied experience of Join-Up. Participants intrinsically learn that violence is not necessary and that they can be powerful yet peaceful leaders through self-awareness and better control of body language and emotions,” says Katie Cunningham, Founder of Lead-Up International, lifelong horsewoman and promoter of equine and human welfare.
Lead-Up got its start in 2012 in Guatemala, Central America. Violence is endemic throughout all levels of Guatemala – within families, within communities, and as a tool for obtaining and maintaining power in business, politics and civil society.
Lead-Up was founded by Katie Cunningham, a British Monty Roberts student living in Guatemala. Initially, her mission was to show that the traditional way of “breaking” horses was both cruel and unnecessary, but in so doing realized that there was a secondary effect, namely that the trainer became less violent as well, for which she was awarded a certificate by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.
Queen Elizabeth, Patron of Join-Up International, believes that these concepts can change lives. She is following the development of this program due to her interest in the humane treatment of animals and trust-based relationships with humans.
The Lead-Up team has been developing the program since 2012 and has partnered with global organizations and local NGOs in Guatemala who have expressed the growing need to reduce violence in the communities they serve.
Since then Lead-Up has grown to a global organization with workshops held across continents including South America, North America, Europe, Australia and now Africa.
For each young person killed, many more sustain injuries requiring hospital treatment. Download the complete WHO Youth Violence Infographic (2015) here.
Beyond deaths and injuries, youth violence can lead to mental health problems and increased health-risk behaviors, such as smoking, alcohol and drug use, and unsafe sex. Youth violence results in greatly increased health, welfare and criminal justice costs; reduces productivity; decreases the value of property in areas where it occurs; and generally undermines the fabric of society. See more at WHO Int.
South African society is becoming more, not less, violent. This was confirmed by the 2017/18 crime statistics released by the South African Police Service (SAPS).
Between 1993 and 2011 the murder rate – the most reliable of all crime statistics – declined almost consistently year on year. The highest murder rate in 100 years (78 murders per 100,000 people) was recorded in 1993, as South Africa transitioned to democracy. By 2011 it had dropped to 30.1 per 100,000.
But over the past six years we have seen a reversal of this downward trend. The murder rate is currently 35.2 per 100,000 (with the global average just 6 per 100,000) – ensuring that South Africa remains one of the 10 most murderous countries in the world.
Violence affects youth and adults differently. If children and youth are exposed to or become victims of violence, there is a high risk that they will show violent behaviour themselves at a later stage. In South Africa, a study by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention showed that young people who have been victims of violence were six times more likely to commit a crime than those who have not been victimised.
In most countries, young people – particularly young men – constitute both the majority of perpetrators and victims of violence and crime.
Violence prevention measures with a strong focus on youth therefore have great potential to reduce violence and crime rates across society. By addressing the root causes of youth violence and strengthening young people’s resilience to risk factors, prevention efforts can reduce youth’s susceptibility to violence and crime, and thus increase safety for all of society.
There is no single reason that explains why some youth resort to violence. It is the exposure to a variety of risk factors – ranging from the experience of violence to dysfunctional family structures or drug abuse – that can draw a young person into violence and crime. This experience is often compounded by social marginalisation, poverty or a lack of future prospects.
Lead-Up is a groundbreaking method which reduces violence in at-risk youth through the development of Non-Aggressive Leaders for the future. With conclusive scientific evidence of reduced violence and abuse towards horses and people, Lead-Up workshops teach vulnerable youth about the power of non-violence, trust-based relationships and peaceful leadership.
The purpose of Lead-Up Workshops is to reduce violence in the community by creating peaceful leaders – both men and women – utilizing equine-assisted therapy and non-verbal communication. We teach vulnerable youth about the power of non-violence, trust-based relationships and peaceful leadership.
Core objectives include:
- Improve participants’ emotional regulation
- Develop peaceful leadership skills in each participant
- Improve participants’ self-esteem
Human Animal Interaction Bulletin published a study in 2015 (“Before, he fought every day with the horse and with me”: Reducing Violence in a Guatemalan Community through a Horse-Handling Program, 2015, Vol. 3, No. 2, 37-55) by Dr. Judith Gibbons, Katie Cunningham, Leslie Paiz, Katelyn E. Poelker and Marco Antonio Montufar Cardenas. The study showed “scientific evidence of reduced violence and abuse toward horses and people because of the Lead-Up program“.
Another study, published in 2016 shows evidence of effectiveness in reducing aggressive behavior. Lead-Up successfully fostered empowered leadership among at-risk youth in Guatemala. The program can provide tools for youth to address the many problems that they face. Those tools have proven to not only promote success for the individual participants, but also for their family members, classmates, and society at large. (‘Now, he will be the leader of the house’: An equine intervention with at-risk Guatemalan youth’. Gibbons, Cunningham, Paiz, Poelker, Chajón, 2016).
Mahatma Gandhi famously said “be the change you want to see in the world”. And a violence-free future starts with you.
SA Child Gauge’s 2017 report shows that:
These statistics show the alarming number of South African children who are growing up without any positive role model in South Africa’s violent society. Our Lead-Up Workshops partner with local NGOs that work with at-risk teens and child-only households. And together we can help steer the children of South Africa towards a brighter, violence-free future.
By teaching violence-free alternatives and creating peaceful leaders, we can help reduce youth’s susceptibility to violence and crime, and thus increase safety for all of society.
No one has the right to say ‘Do this, or I will hurt you’ – to an animals, or to another human.” ~ Monty Roberts
Like all programs, ours costs money. And we need your support to make them happen. But don’t worry, private donors fund our administrative and fundraising costs, so you can rest assured that 100% of your donation will go to funding our Lead-Up workshops, and making a difference in the lives of those who need it most.
Lead-Up is newly launched in South Africa and we’re busy partnering with local NGOs and setting up our programs. The first of which will be in January 2019.
Please check back soon for details of the centres we will be working with. Or donate to our Lead-Up program.