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Oak Leaves and Acorns

Meet The Team

Fran and Hilda

Fran Armstrong
Director & Lead Equine Assisted Learning Facilitator

I started my love affair with equines from a very young age.  I helped out at a local show yard from the age of 8 and learned how to muck out and groom. I began to learn the magic of horsemanship and horse behaviour I was hooked.  I progressed to helping out at a local riding centre in payment for experience and rides and later livery for my own horse who I had to part with when I went to university to study Environmental Illustration and Design.


After graduating I had various jobs working as a freelance artist illustrator and community artist.  I kept riding and worked at a livery yard in the morning and a youth worker in the evening. Eventually I gained a masters in youth and community development.  Later I had 2 children and gave horses up for a while to be a mother and part time artist.


I wasn’t fulfilled I missed working outdoors there was a big hole in my life and it was horse shaped. During this time, I had some difficulties in my life and this spurred me on to get back into riding and to try and find myself a horse as this was something I strongly felt would help with my healing process. I ended up buying a cob from Ireland, I took a risk but something just felt right. She arrived frightened and untrusting. We slowly bonded and each of us started to heal one another.  


Over time I could see the benefits for myself and my children especially my son who had been struggling emotionally and at school. He was a different child when he was with the ponies and in nature. My children were learning about relationships, boundaries and respect and growing in confidence using experiential learning.

This led me to study a diploma in animal therapy as I believed in the therapeutic benefits of spending time with animals (especially the ponies)  also the positive effect on mental and physical health from being in the outdoors surrounded by nature. I then decided to further my studies and train as an Equine Assisted learning facilitator through the EAQ Equine Assisted Qualifications.


After qualifying I set up Willows Nook and became an approved EAQ Centre, there are centres throughout the UK and at time of publishing we are the only one in the North of England, we are on the UK Human Equine Interaction Register and we are licensed though Calderdale council. 



Is the star of the show and the main Equine Assisted Learning pony, she is a gentle character who takes everything in her stride. 



A rescue pony, he is a chilled-out lad he keeps Hilda company when out grazing in the field.  During Equine Assisted Learning sessions he usually nearby trying to get in on the action. 



Spud is a lively lad who loves a bum scratch (he will wiggle his bottom in anticipation.) Spud loves human contact, enjoys going for walks and will follow you about bleating nosily.



Skipper is a gentle and independent chap.  He’s not so keen on being pampered and prefers to be foraging for bramble leaves or jumping on the climbing frame. 

Biddi .jpeg


Biddi is an older Irish Terrier but still likes a good run around the field chasing her ball. She is great company and will happily lie at your feet during activities. 

Bob .jpeg


Bob is an energetic,

wiggly and friendly cockerpoo cross.  He is still a youngster and is currently going through training, (he’s already learned a few tricks).

Dollee .jpeg


Dollee the cob is retired from her riding career due to an injury however she is loving her new role as an Equine Assisted Learning horse. Dollee is very vocal and likes to be involved in whatever is going on, (if she isn’t you will hear her whinnying over the gate.)

The Team


Aine Douglas

Director / Support Worker

The world is more beautiful when in the company of a horse.

I am lucky to have shared my life with horses who have taught me to stop and appreciate life and believe in the power of the possible. Their magnificent ability to balance strength and power with gentle emotional awareness and sensitivity continues to fill me with awe.

I feel privileged to be a part of the Willows Nook team and to be able to share my learning and experience with others and I believe that together we can bring positive and life changing experiences, through Equine Assisted Learning, to our community in Calderdale.


Originally from Dublin, I came to the Calder Valley with the intention of staying for one year. I am still here almost 30 years later which is testament to the spirit of the people who live here and to the beauty of the space which I now call home.


As an experienced teacher, working both in mainstream and alternative settings, I have seen how experiential learning with animals and nature can create positive outcomes for individuals, families, communities and the planet.

My work in developing a more sustainable food system for our region has enabled me to build strong community relations by working collaboratively with people to inspire and empower, by sharing knowledge, developing projects and initiatives, promoting ideas and achieving positive and lasting outcomes.


Juliana Bergman-Burnside

Director /Support Worker

 I am originally from Norway but have been living in the UK for many years. I have always had horses in my life and have ridden since I can remember. My early horse career has taken me to some interesting places over the years For example: riding in the dessert with the King of Arabia. 

I am retired now but previously I have worked in health care, teaching and I was a practitionaer in alternative therapies. I am a strong believer that animals and nature can help people grow in confidence, wellness and enable them to learn new skills. 

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