Coffey uses six retired racehorses because of their versatility, trusting nature, and awareness.
“Awareness is a big part of what I do, and these horses are very responsive. They are very attuned to how a client is feeling and how they present,” said Coffey.
“We have a Shetland pony for young clients, but when she cracks it, we have to put her away! I’ve never had that with racehorses.”
One of Coffey’s therapy horses is Lankan Rupee who retired in 2017 and has been on her 40-acre property since earlier this year.
“He’s a very robust-looking horse and always evokes feelings of power, excitement and strength. He helps clients when they want to tap into their energy and passion. He exudes energy, but he’s also gentle and is good for helping people with contrasting feelings and behaviours,” said Coffey.
Coffey also relies on Hissing Sid, a back-to-back Warrnambool Cup winner who retired from racing in 2015. His slow and mellow nature is a useful contrast to the higher-energy Lankan Rupee.
“Nothing is ever a hurry for Sid! He is great for settling nerves and working with clients who are, because nothing phases him,” said Coffey.
Also on the Mornington Peninsula is newly established Rehab4Rehab, which brings together the expertise of occupational therapist Sarah Munn and horsewoman Alisha Griffiths. The community-based program offers equine-assisted therapy for mentally challenged and disengaged children and youth.
Griffiths and Munn take in retired racehorses who become part of the healing process for the 70 children who are part of the program. One of the early success stories is 11-year-old Vashana who has Tourette’s syndrome, autism spectrum disorder and ADHD.
Before she began working with Rehab4Rehab, Vashana was not coping at school, and she couldn’t hold a pencil or sit still. Vashana’s tics couldn’t be controlled by medication and she was never further than arms’ length from a parent or carer.
But Vashana has learned to plait the mane of a horse, has been able to chop carrots to feed horses even though a knife would usually be too risky for her to handle, and when she is with the horses, she is still. She recently rode for the first time.
“I saw what Sarah was able to do with Vashana and I was so moved that I bought four thoroughbreds from the Echuca Sales, brought them here, let them rest for six weeks and they have become our therapy horses,” said Griffiths.