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Horses help in the healing of a flood-ravaged Hunter Valley community

Penny Evans, Sunday April 16, 2017 - 07:37 EST
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Youth Worker Lisa Dyer created Horse Tales to help Hunter Valley children recover after devastating flooding in 2015. - ABC

When Lisa Dyer took on a youth counselling role in the flood-ravaged Hunter Valley community of Dungog two years ago she was heartbroken to see so many disaffected teenagers in the town.

"I came into a hurting community and I had to find a way to be sensitive, engaging and giving the kids life skills while implementing change right here, right now," said Ms Dyer.

, while other families lost all their possessions in the worst flooding the town had seen in decades.

"When I took this role there were a lot of kids with low self-esteem. Some were bored. There was a lot of disconnect and many were heavily impacted by the floods because the trauma takes time to surface and it was becoming really evident across the shire," she said.

Ms Dyer wanted to find a way to connect to them and developed .

She drew upon her personal experience with horses.

"My daughter is really dyslexic and we pulled her out of school because of her extreme anxiety and home schooled her for four years, and that is when we bought our first horse, to help with her journey by making natural horsemanship part of her schooling," she said.

Horsemanship helping with healing

Ms Dyer heard about a horse therapy course in Victoria set up for children in the wake of the Kinglake bushfires which she drew on in creating Horse Tales.

She works with experienced natural horsemanship expert Fran Griffin on her property at Glen Oak, near Clarence Town.

"When the children first come to the farm we show them the horses in the paddock and explain about herd behaviour, the different personalities and the dynamics in the herd," said Ms Dyer.

"We talk about the roles and responsibilities in different herds in our lives, like our families, at school, in the playground, and the children each identify with an animal that they connect with — like the orphan, the rehabilitated horse, the old horse or the bully.

"Horses have no judgement, they are not thinking about what you did yesterday or what's going to happen tomorrow, they just give clear feedback right in that moment," said Ms Griffin.



The groups come for two hours a week over six weeks, building up their confidence with the horses while opening up about their personal experiences.

"With a horse you have to keep your emotions in check," Ms Dyer said.

"If you are aggressive a horse will shut down or worse, retaliate, and if you are shut down emotionally they will just walk all over you."

After a season of devastating fires and supporters believe Horse Tales could easily be adopted by other communities in pain on their road to recovery.

"We use the horses as a way for the kids to find out more about themselves, build some life skills. Horses are just amazing animals to do that with," said Ms Griffin.

Expansion to more at-risk families

The program has now been running for 12 months and has expanded outside of helping the local shire with government agencies, charities and private services all referring at-risk children and families.

"Equine therapy is a huge thing and in Australia I feel we are only just beginning to catch on," said Ms Dyer.

"We've been working with a lot of indigenous families in the area and a lot of kids that come through the foster care program and it's just beautiful healing."

Parents and teachers are reporting positive changes at home and in the playground.

"It's amazing to see the difference when they are walking around with the horses, they have a calmness they don't normally have at school," local school chaplain Kath Thomas said.

Parent Leisa Stuckings agreed.

"My daughter gained a lot more confidence, she was not so self conscious of herself," she said.

"I think she has become more resilient and willing to take on and try different things."


- ABC

© ABC 2017

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