We are lucky to be living and working in a vibrant environment like Singapore, where the design scene is booming rapidly. Although part of Heist is busy with fieldwork in the Middle East, the rest of the team in Singapore took advantage of the events and workshops happening during Singapore Design Week - this is Part I of the mini-series.
The Care Lab and Equal Ark have joined forces in this experiential workshop called “The Great Outdoors of Design - Redesigning Care with Horses and Caregivers” in which participants link human-centered design with equine-assisted learning (and yes - we were actually able to interact with the horses!). Horses are more than majestic creatures, they are extremely bright and, when adequately trained, are able to successfully engage with people in an impactful and therapeutic way.
First, we were split into groups and asked to pick a horse of our choice. My team picked Tata, a mysterious white horse with a noble stance and silky mane. After taking Tata out if his stable, the caregiver gave us insights on his personality. For example, she told us that Tata is popular amongst he elderly — he even leans down on their laps if they are in a wheelchair. That is because Tata responds well to calm and peaceful energy, as he suffers from painful joints and relates to older aunties and uncles in that sense - effectively demonstrating a remarkable sense of empathy.
We were then taught about the various tools used for grooming horses and took turns using them on Tata. One thing we’ve learnt is that horses give immediate feedback — if they dislike something or are feeling hostile, it will immediately show in their body language. For example, Tata jerked away or moved to the side if a tool used causes him to feel ticklish. When it was my turn to brush Tata’s mane, I approached him carefully and made sure to remain in his line of sight as to not startle him. I brushed softly and carefully, and Tata responded well. I have many memories of people brushing my hair when I was younger and how much discomfort it caused so I was mindful of that with Tata - indeed it was my turn to practice empathy.
After a rich conversation with our individual groups, everyone gathered to reflect. We discussed how it felt to engage with our horses, and what we’ve learned about ourselves through this experience. Although everyone had a unique encounter, some common themes arose. We spoke about topics like the nervousness experienced with approaching a new situation or entering a new space, how our own energy levels can affect the external environment, and how body language can serve as a visual cue. After putting all of our thoughts on paper and sharing them, the various points that came up collectively will inspire the process of designing a better environment for caregivers and people with special needs.