Lead-Up® Overview

Lead-Up’s goal is to reduce violence and other behavioural issues 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® – A Brief History

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 Africa.

Claire is one of three Lead-Up Certified Instructors in Ireland.

Why is Lead-Up® Necessary?

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 200,000 homicides occur each year worldwide among youth and young adults aged 10-29 years, making homicide the fourth leading cause of death in this age group.

And this age-group counts for nearly half of all homicides globally per year.

83% of homicide victims in this age group are male.

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.

Why We Need to Focus on Youth Violence

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 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.

Lead-Up® – A Unique Solution Creating Peaceful Leaders

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

A Scientifically Proven Program

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).

As part of Lead-Up International, Claire Connaghan works with at-risk teens from partner NGOs in Donegal, Ireland to combat youth violence, drug and alcohol addiction, sexual promiscuity and other high-risk behaviours.