Counsellor Emma Ward talks benefits of Horse Assisted Healing in the South West

Horse Assisted Therapy: Counsellor Emma Ward said being around horses had many psychological benefits including being present and being able to regulate your emotions. Picture: Pip Waller
Horse Assisted Therapy: Counsellor Emma Ward said being around horses had many psychological benefits including being present and being able to regulate your emotions. Picture: Pip Waller

Emma Ward wasn't sure if she would be able to get back on the saddle after falling from a horse some-thirteen years ago.

An underlying condition in the horses back caused the horse to seize when jumping - resulting in Ms Ward falling from the horse and injuring her leg.

She was 45 years old and had spent years competing at a high level in horse trials, had run horse agistment yards and coached other riders as a level two riding coach.

But she overcame her fears and today refers to horses as her "second skin".

"I'm from England originally and my aunt had horses at her farm in Suffolk," Ms Ward explained.

"And that's where it all came from - I always wanted to just get out and be with the horses.

"They were my great love."

13 years later, Ms Ward is living and working in Bunbury as a qualified practitioner of the Equine Psychotherapy Institute through her two-year old business, 'Horse Assisted Healing'.

In other words, Ms Ward, who has been involved with horses "right from the word go", is a counsellor who offers clients a safe experience with horses as a form of therapy.

Horses as a form of therapy 

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy is an alternate approach to counselling, psychotherapy and mental health that supports clients in addressing therapeutic goals with horses as assistants.

Ms Ward said the link between her love of horses and helping others came about when her daughter began struggling with mental health as a teenager.

Through research, Ms Ward said she developed an interest in mental health and how we as humans can carry trauma on through different generations.

"I thought if I wanted to walk this path with my daughter, I needed to start learning my part in it," Ms Ward said.

"And we come from a family of a lot of different issues where trauma had been so multigenerational.

"When I'm around horses, there's this sense of authenticity in the way they respond to each other in the here and now - they don't get caught up in their thoughts like humans do."

Counsellor Emma Ward

"It wasn't a matter of blame - it was a matter of what was my part in it and how could it be helpful to her and to me to move forward.

"It was a horrible journey she went on but I'm really glad we could go on it together - and I'm glad I didn't stick my head in the sand."

After personally introducing horses into her daughters life and seeing the positive effects, Ms Ward began working towards becoming an Australian Counselling Association registered counsellor, which led to her additional training with the Equine Psychotherapy Institute in Victoria.

She told the Mail that she was still studying to be a counsellor when she first heard about the Institute.

"And I just thought, wow, that makes sense because of how horses had helped me in my life," Ms Ward said.

"When I'm around them, there's this sense of calmness and authenticity in the way they are around and respond to each other in the here and now - they don't get caught up in their thoughts like humans do.

Emma with one of her horses on the Crooked Brook property. Picture: Supplied

Emma with one of her horses on the Crooked Brook property. Picture: Supplied

"I've just found that being with horses has been a really helpful way to see life - they don't bottle things up, they move just like emotions need to.

"I got in touch with the institute and then spent the next five years reinventing myself again to be able to work in mental health with horses by my side."

How does horse therapy work? 

Horse Assisted Healing is based out of Crooked Brook, where Ms Ward uses horses Matlock, Val, Ollie and Mac as 'co-facilitators' in her counselling work.

She said the horses were free range, living in a herd and had the choice to participate in an effort to bring an authentic experience to the client.

Once clients have been referred to the service, Ms Ward takes clients through a number of individuals sessions covering feelings, boundaries and ways of thinking.

"We go through different experiences such as touching, grooming, walking and just being around the horses," Ms Ward said.

"Each individualised session is tailored around what comes up in the 'here and now'."

"So if someone approaches the horse and it walks away, it could either be very painful for them, creating feelings of not being good enough or worth it, or somebody else might think, that's great, I want to go off and follow the horse.

The sessions include interacting with horses either close up or some distance. Picture: Supplied

The sessions include interacting with horses either close up or some distance. Picture: Supplied

"It all takes time but core believes quickly start to evolve and you can really see patterns that are happening in somebodies life."

During each session, clients explore self-experience in relationship, build self-awareness of patterns or habits that are no longer serving them well, and develop psychological and social skills addressing goals identified.

Healing from trauma 

Looking back over the last two years, Ms Ward said the biggest age group of clients she had seen was teenagers and those in their early 20s.

She is now looking at expanding to ponies in order to meet the needs of younger children.

"I find that people often get defensive because they're in pain and they often try and justify it and themselves," Ms Ward said.

"But so often its about your teenager or your child wanting to be heard and not negating those feelings.

"It's about understanding your part in it as a parent and increasing your communication skills."

Today, Ms Ward said her daughter was doing well and thriving in Karratha.

"I'm so proud of her - she never stops learning and trying to work it out.

"She was one of my greatest teachers as I went along.

"We always supported each other along the way, and that's what I want to do for others now."

To learn more about Horse Assisted Healing in Bunbury, visit https://horseassistedhealing.com.au/.