real life

At 18, Jessica felt hopeless about her life. An encounter with horses changed her future.

When Jessica* first came to Eden Equine for a group therapy session with horses, she had already lived through a lot of trauma in her life for someone so young.

Just 18, she had experienced the death of both parents – something she had not yet been able to process. She was living in government housing. She wasn’t working and finding a job seemed impossible. She was using drugs. She felt helpless and hopeless about her future.

Jessica didn’t know much about horses so when she was asked to approach one in that first session, she was afraid. These animals were so large, and seemingly so unpredictable. But as she interacted with the horse, the fear gradually abated; she felt their calming presence, their gentle nature, and soon, she felt like she could trust the horse.

It was a big step for Jessica. She found it difficult to speak about her past with anyone. Once she had disclosed to a therapist some of her past trauma and the therapist had reacted in shock. Soon after, she ran away from home.

But that day in the presence of horses, Jessica felt she could start to share parts of what had been bottled up tightly inside her for so long.

horse therapy
Equine-assisted therapy can benefit children and teens with emotional or behavioural issues. Image: Eden Equine

Sammie Grantham is an equine-assisted psychotherapist and knows more than most about the transformative experience that simply being around horses can bring. A victim of complex trauma herself, Sammie had spent time in her past training wild horses. Through the process, she realised how much the horses had taught her. Now, working at Eden Equine, Sammie helps children and young adults in group and individual horse therapy sessions.

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“Horses have this amazing ability to know what to do in the moment,” Sammie tells Mamamia. “Because they are prey animals they're actually wired to read other animals moment to moment. So when you put a horse in front of a human they can pick up when your heart elevates, when you're feeling nervous, when you're feeling happy - as it happens. They're able to read us far better than we can read each other.”

“They're also herd animals so they really care about other members of their herd. They have this huge caring side which helps them react to humans. They will try to help that person with what they're feeling in that moment,” she adds.

At Eden Equine, a rural property located in NSW's Bilpin that Sydneysiders Deb and Michael bought a few years ago, you’ll find horses grazing in large paddocks as well as a few farm animals at the hobby farm. The couple, who own the popular bakery Grumpy Baker in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, first came across equine assisted learning and therapies when their son was diagnosed with a number of behavioural issues. At Eden Equine, Deb and Michael found a place they could share with other families the benefits of equine therapy they themselves had found so helpful.

eden-equine
Eden Equine, located in NSW's Bilpin, offers luxury cabin stays where you can meet farm animals. Image: Eden Equine
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What is equine learning and therapy and how does it help?

"I meet with a child or young person and sometimes speak with family and other service providers and clinicians to figure out presenting issues. I then write a program or group of targeted sessions to meet the needs of the clients. Sometimes it's about learning skills or exploring issues," Sammie explains to Mamamia. 

"Generally experiments with horses go for 30-45 minutes, then afterwards I will do therapy and uncover what they learnt and solidify the session."

She adds: “I’ve done work [with teenagers] around trauma and trust. I've done sessions around barriers – it could be to attending school or doing exams. It might be family issues, relationship issues, identity issues. Anything that a young person or child is facing I'm able to work with them around that [in equine therapy sessions].

For Jessica’s therapy, Sammie worked with the teenager fortnightly for three months.

“A lot of the sessions were around dealing with her trauma, but also facing her fears and being safe and held in all of that. Which the horses were able to do,” Sammie explains.

And for Jessica, the experience, she says, was “life-changing”.

“She made amazing progress. She was able to share stuff and not have an emotional reaction,” Sammie says.

“By the end of the sessions, she was looking to study to become a social worker or counsellor. Her drug use had stopped. She was connecting with friends. She had a lot of hope for the future.

"It was a very different girl who presented on that first day.”

* Not her real name. The feature image used is a Getty stock image.  

For more information about Eden Equine, and their equine therapy programs and scholarships, visit their website. Eden Farm Escape also offers bespoke luxury cabins, horse riding, and agistment.

The writer stayed as a guest at Eden Equine.

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