Rod and Deb O’Malley have a background in natural horsemanship and have looked at how their skills can be used to help those disadvantaged in our community.
Now, they are local facilitators of the well known program “Horses Helping Humans”, developing relationships between our beautiful equine friends and people of all ages who may be struggling with domestic abuse, mental health issues, poor socio-economic conditions, among other difficulties. Here, Deb explains how we can “learn from horses” …
Hi Deb. Tell us a bit about your background … what part of the Hastings area do you call home, and what brought you to live there?
We spent most of our pre-coastal life growing up in Tamworth. A severe drought encouraged us to move to a better climate, where we promised ourselves we would have a plentiful supply of water and as it turned out, we now have frontage to the Hastings River.
Some of our interests have included volunteering for Lifeline and grievance counselling, welfare courses, starting young horses, and horsemanship skills. Our home is now at Hyndmans Creek, which is in the beautiful hinterland of Wauchope.
When/how did you first start working with horses?
Most of our lives we have owned and worked with horses and ponies. For about 20 years we have been involved in natural horsemanship, which has given us an excellent understanding of horse psychology and herd dynamics.
In the past we have started and trained quite a number of horses and ponies, specialising in rehabilitating “problem” horses that other people have given up on. As with the youth, the horses learn “that was then and this is now”. It is an awesome experience to let go of the lead rope and find the “truth”: that your horse sees you as a partner and wants to be with you.
What has working with horses taught you personally, and how has this helped your lives/careers to date?
The connection with these intuitive beings has proven therapeutic and inspirational. They have taught us patience with ourselves and others. They have been a reflection of us and demonstrated how our behaviour affects others. They have taught us to be in the moment, to let go of the past and stop worrying about the future. We have found a mental calmness when being around the horses.
How did you become aware of Sue Spence’s “Horses Helping Humans” program – and what can you tell us about how it is run?
We were searching for a way of sharing our equine experience with others, especially those who had become disillusioned with the world and had lost their way, often due to no fault of their own. For a very long time, we researched available programs where we could facilitate psychologists and case workers by using horses to help humans learn more effective communication and body language skills.
When we stumbled across the award winning, outcome based program founded by Sue Spence from Horses Helping Humans™ and the Horses Whispering Youth Program, we found Sue’s package ticked all our boxes.
Specifically, the program teaches clients the basics of natural horsemanship ground skills (no riding involved), which are based on mutual respect and trust between horse and handler.
Firstly, the students brush, plait and chat, which develops relationships with the students. The quiet time of simply brushing the horses and giving the students the important task of keeping their horse calm (while reminding them to breathe out completely while brushing is actually calming them, they think it’s to keep their horse calm! But, it helps them immensely in hearing and focusing once the tasks start being taught.)
Students learn how to gently back their horses away from them to create healthy safe boundaries, how to circle their horses around them on a 12 ft lead, pop them over small jumps, and lead them around an agility course.
What do you feel this program has to offer individuals?
Our program will assist students to learn vital skills such as self-confidence, communication, emotional control, anger management, impulse control, self-discipline, respect and trust for others. These skills will help them to become a part of and contribute meaningfully to their local community.
Many disadvantaged and disengaged people have been denied role models (such as effective parenting) necessary to teach these skills; many come from homes where trust levels are exceptionally low. The program tangibly demonstrates to clients how much more effective the use of calm assertiveness (instead of aggressive behaviour) is in getting their horse to willingly respond – showing them, perhaps for the first time, what empathy and respect for another living being looks like.
As the horses respond in kind and show respect and trust for their handlers, many former schoolyard bullies are reduced to tears by this show of affection, perhaps for the first time, from another living being.
You’ve come on board as facilitators of this program locally. Why did you choose to do so?
The Horses Helping Humans™ Program became licensed in 2016 due to the high number of enquiries from all around Australia asking if the program was available in other states. This program is now synonymous with professional training, as it is known as a results based program. It is a unique program that is providing a genuine alternative to the more traditional methods of assisting disadvantaged people into a functional and fruitful life.
Sue has been working together with Youth and Family Service Organisations across northern NSW and south-east QLD, including Act for Kids, Wesley Mission, Department for Child Safety, Youth and Correctional services and Bravehearts, among others.
Where/when can we access your coaching?
“LEARN from Horses” individuals are referred to the program by psychologists and welfare agencies. This referral process ensures that all those participating in the program are in need of benevolent aid due to factors such as family history of domestic violence, low socio-economic conditions, mental health issues and others. Days and times will depend on demand.
What ages/types of individuals can take advantage of your coaching?
Disengaged, and at risk people of all ages, disadvantaged youth, people with disabilities, people at risk of homelessness, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the general community in Australia.
Where can we find more info?
By phoning (02) 6585 6555 or 0439 863 370
Interview by Jo Robinson.