Redland local is harnessing the power of horses - The Community Leader and Real Estate New and Views

Photo: Supplied.


Psychotherapist Susan Pienaar, principal of Wellness With Horses and Humans, is well aware of the health benefits of just being around horses. She grew up with horses on a farm in South Africa; when the family came to Australia buying a horse was a natural part of settling in. Buying that horse a companion was a natural second step. Agisting other horses on the farm led to some of them moving into the family group and Susan now has seven horses on her Redland property, all of them part of her horse assisted therapy team.

Susan says that increased research into the involvement of horses in therapy, and empirical evidence of its benefits, has led to a rise in demand for such services, even for corporate team building and leadership training. Susan’s clients, many of whom are adolescents and young adults wrestling with anxiety, low self-confidence, and interpersonal or social difficulties, find that time spent with a compatible horse can be beneficial.

“Horses are social animals – which makes them amenable to social interactions with humans,” she says. “They’re also prey animals, which means that they’re intensely empathetic and sensitive to moods of other animals or people in their environs; they’ll pick up feelings and respond. All of these horses are trained and have their basic needs met so they’ve learned to trust people and welcome contact with them.”

Susan loves all her horses but says there are two special “stars” that are like magnets to clients; piebald pony Skittles, adopted from Susan’s previous work with the RSPCA and Thunder, a baritone-voiced retired rodeo pick-up horse who, at the age of 44, may be the oldest horse in the Redlands.

Susan says that working outdoors with the horses is, for some clients, vastly preferable to the usual therapy session held in a closed room with no distractions. Clients may just spend time with a horse and Susan, with as much animal contact as they find comfortable or, if they have the appropriate experience and confidence, spend some supervised time riding.

“We’ve found that bareback riding – initially being led around the yard by a halter – is an effective way to put the client in touch with the horse’s musculature and movement, particularly if I notice that the client comes in with anxiety that causes them to physically tighten up.

“As well, just being at one with such a majestic, big animal, trusting the horse to offer support and safety, for a client to trust their welfare to another animal’s feet can have a wonderful effect on self-esteem and security.”

Susan says that a horse is carefully selected to match a client and every new contact begins with a safety briefing.

“I need to read the body language and responses of the client and the horse and make sure that they’re right for each other,” she says. “A horse’s natural state is to be ‘regulated’, to be calm and at peace. If they can help transmit that energy to a client they’re working with – well, amazing things can happen.”

You may be interested in