A letter from our founder


As a historian, I study, leadership. In particular, Leaders of Singapore. I am fascinated by the question, what makes a Leader. Leaders have certain traits. Whether they are business leaders, leaders of State, they have a certain way of thinking, and doing. These are, Habits of Mind.
In character, leaders are serious. In thinking, they are open, and always learning. They are far-sighted, and visionary. In personality they are bold, confident, and not afraid of risk. And they are very persistent. They never give up.
People ask me, are Leaders lucky? Is it a matter of luck? The Leaders I have met, did not have good luck. In fact, it can be said that it takes a good dose of bad luck, to make a good leader. Our first generation leadership endured great poverty, hardship and tragedy. Through these trials, they developed their Habits of Mind.
How are these good Habits learned? Usually, they are passed from parent to child. And once learned, these Habits are permanent. It is as hard to shake off a good Habit, just as it is difficult to shake off a bad Habit.
About 7 years ago, I was asked to help Northlight School. I met their students, aged 13 to 14, who had not done well in primary school. I studied these children, using the same tools that I used to study the Leaders of Singapore. And I realized there were similarities between these two groups. A background of poverty, and tragedy. And, at a young age, a very grim future.
What made the difference between a successful Leader, and an At Risk child, appeared to be HABITS OF MIND. Those Leaders of Singapore had Habits of Mind, which enabled them to rise above their hardships. And I asked myself, if each child At Risk could learn Habits of Mind, could they become Leaders?
The Principal, Ms Lim Yen Ching, agreed. She made out a list of Habits of Mind, which her students could learn. The question was, how could these be taught? At Risk Kids are very difficult to teach.
But what I found out, was that At Risk Kids loved horses.
Singapore, has many horses. Most are racing at Kranji. When horses can no longer run, they need to find another job. So on one hand, we have horses needing jobs. And on the other, we had children who love horses. And these children need to learn Habits of Mind. Could the horse teach Habits of Mind? I said, “Yes!” And then I said, “Let’s try.” This was the start of EQUAL.
In EQUAL, we developed unique and innovative exercises which were structured to make the Horse the Teacher, the Mentor and Counsellor. Through the Horse, the child learns Habits of Mind.
This makes EQUAL uniquely effective. The students love horses. They come, motivated and willing to learn. In this horse-oriented frame of mind, they learn, fast.
And back at school, their teachers remark, they are teachable, they are positive, they work together. The Habits of Mind learned at EQUAL, transfer to their school. Their grades go up.
Since the beginnings of the programme in 2011, EQUAL has enrolled almost 3,000 children. And we know, through research, that children are gaining Habits of Mind. Through Habits of Mind, they will have a better future.
I hope they will become Leaders. Leaders of their families. Leaders of their schools. Leaders at their workplaces. And Leaders of Singapore.
The progress of EQUAL has been due to support of many people. I want to thank them all. May I record special thanks to our start up team of Low Sek Fun of Trailblazers, Fidah Alsagoff of T Touch, Woon Saet Nyoon, and Kee Kirk Chuen of Temasek Cares, BY Chew, and Roderick Tan of the Equestrian Federation of Singapore. May I thank the past-Chairs, Harpreet Bedi, Melissa Tan, and Jade Kua, and the current Chairman of EQUAL-ARK, Professor Lim Soo Ping, and his distinguished Board. And our major foundations, and donors, Tote Board, SBF Foundation, ARC, Far East Organization, Boustead, Keppel, Wilmar, Parkway, Mr Eng Chiet Hsuen, Dr Ngoi Sing Shang, Mr Tony Chew.
And may I record a special tribute to two great supporters of EQUAL. The late President, Mr SR Nathan, helped us secure the land and resources, which is now the National Equestrian Park, home of EQUAL. And Mdm Ho Ching. She cares deeply for Singapore, and for its children. By her strong backing for EQUAL, she showed a far-sighted vision, boldness and courage. EQUAL was a unique programme, unprecedented anywhere in the world. It is now recognized throughout the world, for its contributions. May I thank you, Mdm Ho Ching, for your trust and support.

Dr Melanie Chew Founder EQUAL-ARK Singapore Ltd (2019)

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