The horse power behind equine therapy

Retired racehorses are helping kids and adults deal with some of life’s biggest challenges in a special program, as Jacqui Felgate writes.

There’s something magical about the horse.

Whether you’ve never been around horses or have spent a lifetime riding, they never cease to amaze.

And nowhere is this more obvious than Racing Hearts.

What is Racing Hearts?

The Racing Hearts charity is using equine-assisted therapy to help change the lives of children – and adults – who have suffered significant challenges in their lives.

The horses, too, are given a second chance. Finding a happy home for retired racehorses has long been a substantial challenge for the racing industry.

More often than not, these horses have so much more to give, but finding the right home isn’t easy.

Racing Victoria’s Off The Track program partners with organisations like Racing Hearts to prove that retired thoroughbred horses can find a place in the world after their racing careers are over.

How does equine therapy help?

Racing Hearts director Lisa Coffey describes equine-assisted therapy as “traditional counselling in a non-traditional way”.

She has witnessed students who have experienced terrible trauma in their lives change completely once they’re in the presence of a horse.

“We have students who are non-verbal, and after coming here and spending time with the horses begin speaking again,” she says.

Sessions can involve counselling in a paddock or arena, where clients literally stand among the horses while talking to the therapist.

Often the animals will walk right up to someone and even lie down next to them.

Lisa says it’s like the horses have a sixth sense.

“These horses will do things with our students they would never do with me,” she says.

“Research has shown that when people come into contact with horses the area of the brain responsible for memory and emotion is activated.”

For many clients, going to a traditional therapy session in a clinical setting can be overwhelming.

“When clients are more relaxed they find it easier to talk about their issues,” she says.

Jacqui Felgate with horse Red

Building positive outcomes for teenagers

Based on the Mornington Peninsula just outside of Melbourne, Racing Hearts also offers courses for local school students.

Many of these teenagers come from challenging backgrounds, and often don’t turn up to school classes.

“But no matter the weather, rain or sunshine, they always come to our program,” she says.

The students receive training and an educational certificate, which can then help them find employment in the racing industry.

And while most of the horses at Racing Hearts haven’t won a race, they’ve found a new purpose in retirement.

And that’s a win-win.

Written by Jacqui Felgate. Images courtesy Racing Photos. Main picture: Lisa Coffey with a Racing Hearts horse. Secondary picture: Jacqui Felgate with her retired racehorse, Red.