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Byron Shire
February 9, 2023

Equine therapy is taking long strides

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The young woman walks toward the horse, her hands shaking.

Suffering from severe trauma after a recent car accident, her nervous system is pulled tighter than an overstretched violin string.

As she reaches the large, chestnut mayor there’s a moment of hesitation, a long slow exhale and then, eventually, a smile.

Welcome to the world of equine therapy, an emerging modality that has demonstrated impressive results in the treatment of trauma and a range of other mental and physical health challenges.

‘Horses live in awareness, in the here and the new and can model healthy regulation skills, reminding us about how our body wants to regulate in a physical and physiological way,’ says Maxime Willems of Equi Yoga in South Ballina.

‘They can also teach us about our own fight, flight or freeze tendencies in daily life – there’s a real learning element there..’

‘And then there’s the physical touch element which can be very healing, especially for people who are experiencing trauma.’

Ms Willems was first introduced to horses through the world of dressage, where she was a high-level competitor before leaving to study yoga.

Now she is combining the two, along with her experiences in working with people who have a disability.

‘Working with the NDIS both myself and my clients felt that we were putting bandaids on challenging behaviours and intense emotions,’ she says.

‘I wanted to go deeper, to help people work with and heal the underlying causes of their challenges.’

This was the seed for Equi Yoga, but it wasn’t until Ms Willems met Stevey Arena from Sugar Beach Ranch that the idea came to full fruition.

‘We met in December 2021 as both of us were looking for a way to support the local community,’ Ms Willems says. ‘Both of us share a vision of supporting the community that has faced immense trauma over the last couple of years.

‘We both wanted to offer support through connecting with the community, a sense of belonging, and connection to nature. It was a match made in heaven.’

Home to the late great manager of INXS, Chris Murphy, Sugar Beach Ranch offers a space where the community can experience safety, calm, and connection.

The duo offer a range of services, including individual and group equine-assisted wellbeing sessions, monthly equine assisted mindfulness sessions, and equine-assisted child wellbeing sessions during the school holidays.

‘In a way this is a new modality, but it’s also in a way very old,’ Ms Willems says.

‘People have been connection with and living with horses for thousands of years, and finding healing in those experiences. In a way this is coming home.’

For more information about Equi Yoga go to www.equiyogabyronbay.com.au, and for more information about Sugar Beach Ranch visit www.sugarbeachranch.com.

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