For Peter Ward from Batemans Bay, Wednesday’s appear to deliver the kind of joy money can’t buy.
As they meander with anticipation and at times impatiently, their carers get the men ready for the saddle while two horses stand beyond the fence unknowingly waiting to improve the quality of life for their riders.
Equine therapy lifts the well-being of people with ADHD, anxiety, dyslexia, autism, cerebral palsy, down syndrome, acquired brain injuries, vision and hearing impediments and amputees.
In 2010 a study completed in the U.S by Dr Patricia J. McConnell, pointed to what I see here – “The horse–human bond can be found in the writings of the ancient Greeks, in which riding a horse was deemed beneficial for people who were ill. In the 1800s riding was ordered by doctors for people who were diagnosed with depression, brain disorders, and gout.”
Ellesmere Equine, Riding for the Disabled, and Life Without Barriers are running with that locally.
After working as a preschool teacher and part-time riding instructor, Sue Feeney quickly realised “there was nowhere for special needs kids to do it (horse riding classes), so we went into RDA (Riding for the Disabled), had a public meeting and everyone was really supportive.”
After opening in 2015 the business began to work closely with NDIS service providers ensuring more people in need have access to therapeutic services like this.
“If they (people with disabilities) apply through (NDIS) providers they get a good result, others who try and do it on their own tend to miss out on this sort of thing (equine therapy) and it is very beneficial for them,” Sue says.
“We don’t get any government funding and obviously the costs of running the business are huge, hang on, we did received $30,000 in a community assistance grant which helped re-do the driveway, it was very tree rutted so the help was fantastic.”
The business is growing at an accelerated rate, Sue’s main focus continues to be accessibility.
“We need to continue to make people aware of this opportunity,” she says.
Peter Ward began riding a couple of years ago on a non-custom saddle and had to held on his horse by three instructors during the class. Since receiving funding from Batemans Bay Soldiers Club he was able to purchase an $8000 custom saddle giving Peter a sense of freedom many more able bodies take for granted.
“It was handmade specifically for him [Peter] by a maker in Tilba, allowing him to hold the reins and steer the horse,” Sue says.
James Paull has been working for Life Without Barriers for two and a half years and has an unmissable bond with rider Ben Croft.
“We get on pretty good, he loves all the boy’s stuff,” James says.
After 12 years of being a stay at home mum, support worker Lucy Mills was given a chance at Ellesmere Equine with her first community service job, drawing on the skills developed as a full-time parent.
“I had no [professional] skills, my first boss [Sue Feeney] said she had a gut feeling and she was right, skills can be taught, it takes a certain person to do this job,” Lucy says.
Spaces are available now for classes on Monday, Thursday and Friday morning. Sue is also in desperate need of volunteers to help with fundraising and lessons, you don’t have to know a lot about horses, training will be provided.