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Finding Joy and Healing through Horse Therapy

Through interaction with the animals, horse therapy encourages people to rebuild trust and boundaries in personal relationships, and promotes the idea of adopting new approaches to problem-solving. Sandra Goeldner says she has been struggling since her life was shattered by sexual abuse. "I'd say a lot of my confidence was beaten out of me, my personality was destroyed and I became just a closed soul who was basically dying," she says. She received help from Bundaberg's Phoenix House sexual assault service, where director Helena Botros pioneered equine-assisted therapy for sexual assault victims in Australia.
She says horses are useful for therapy — in part — because they evolved with humans.
"They learned how to observe the environment, how to read subtleties, so they will read incongruences in a person," Ms Botros said.
"They will pick it up because their survival is based on that. And, they will give that immediate feedback."
That feedback may come while walking with a horse through an obstacle course, where sexual abuse victims are encouraged to imagine the markers and poles as their personal problems.
Ms Botros says it is a very non-judgemental and practical way to create positive change.
"It is experiential learning; how they project themselves onto the horse is something they can look at from the outside in and think: 'I can change this, I can adjust that, I would like to change that'," she said.
Ms Goeldner has no doubt the obstacle course has helped her overcome some of the challenges that have flowed from her abusive past.
"When you're walking up to that obstacle, [the animals] sense what that fear is, and that horse just says: 'get out of here, it's nothing, you can do it'," she said.