To Whom it may concern,

It is with pleasure that I write this letter of recommendation for the Horses for Hope Organisation.

We attended Horse for Hope from August 2016 through to September 2017.  When we commenced therapy at Horse for Hope we were quite uncertain, as to whether or not, our daughter would overcome her mental health illness substantially enough to be able to live her life and take place in the world.   Our daughter is now living overseas relatively independently, as a young adult, and I would like to recognize the key role that Horse for Hope played in helping this be possible.

My daughter was diagnosed with chronic anxiety when she was 13 years of age.  Prior to commencing our involvement with Horses for Hope my daughter had been admitted to a private psychiatric clinic for adolescents on three occasions, each one for no less than 4 weeks at a time, and on one occasion for six weeks.  She was all but completely debilitated and disabled with anxiety; unfortunately, anxiety rarely comes alone, and for our daughter it brought on bouts of depression and agoraphobia for her to contend with also.

Her hospital admittance was becoming a revolving door. I sometimes thought during this time that hospital was the only place she felt comfortable.   While this treatment had some benefit, our daughter wasn’t moving forward towards recovery.  The amount of medication, she was being prescribed was alarming.

From Year Eight onwards (from 14 years of age) she was unable to attend school with any regularity.    I say unable because it is important to understand that our daughter desperately wanted more than anything to attend school and the term “school refusal,” a term often used to describe and categorize children with mental health disorders, is in my view unjust at best and, at worst, blatantly wrong.  Up until the point of her diagnosis our daughter was recognised as an intelligent girl who did very well academically and had strong family connections.  In Year Seven (13 years of age), despite missing the equivalent of one whole term from school, she was still awarded two academic achievement awards.  She played netball, was a member of little athletics, she swam weekly and possibly, most important of all, she had friends.

When our daughter was 16 years old her juvenile psychiatrist informed us there was nothing more he could do.  He said, and I quote, “it’s up to her to get better” (she was 16 and begging us to help her get well).   Finding the right psychiatrist to take over daughter’s case had its own set of difficulties.    Our daughter was attending an out-patient day program run by the hospital she had been admitted to, but because she wasn’t under a psychiatrist as such, she was denied further access to the program.  The school she attended in Year Seven was unwilling to offer any real help, and it soon enough became obvious that our daughter would not be able to attend high school again.

At this point in time all our daughter had was us, her parents, a darkened room and an ever-increasing slew of medication that did not seem to be helping.   She had withdrawn from all other family members and over the years her friends had naturally moved on. 

It was at this stage in our daughter’s illness that we began therapy with Colin and his team at Horses for Hope.  I use the word “we” decidedly, because this was the first time during all of the therapy my daughter had undergone to date, that we her parents, were told one of us had to be present during her sessions.  I remind you she was diagnosed at 13 years old.  I had to fight tooth and nail to be present during counselling sessions with her mental health medial professionals.     Up to this point her dad & I were segregated and often kept in the dark about our daughter’s therapy.   We often felt like we were being scrutinized by the medical professionals she was under the care of, which is somewhat ironical, because these medical professionals were prescribing a 15½ year old girl diazepam (Valium) to take as needed, at her discretion.  We were neither consulted nor informed by the medical professionals that they had prescribed Valium to our child.  It was our daughter who conveyed this information to us.    Horses for Hope immediately provided us with an alternative pathway to treatment when all else seemed lost.  Importantly it was a pathway we could all walk together.

Therapy at Horses for Hope quickly became something our daughter looked forward to and engaged in enthusiastically.  This in itself was something we hadn’t seen in what seemed to us forever, she was being positive and looking forward to something. At Horses for Hope, under the expert guidance of Colin and his team our daughter was able to explore her anxiety in a completely different way.  Here she felt useful and thoroughly enjoyed helping horses overcome their fears.  This was very important to her because, as she often articulated, it wasn’t just about her, it was about helping the horses.

The model of therapy at HFH provided our daughter with many benefits; the horse’s behavioural problems and fears in a sense acted as a conduit that enabled her to explore her own anxiety and fears.  She was soon able to able to apply the knowledge she was learning to calm and re-educate the horses for her own personal use.  She had in previous treatment learnt many of these strategies but, somehow with the horse as a mirror, it stuck and made more sense to her.  Her empathy for the horses allowed her to develop greater sense and understanding of herself and the issues she faces. 

Working with the horses required her to take on a leadership role, this enabled her to become more aware of her strengths and attributes.  This is where the hope began to flourish and grow.

The strength of this program lies within the subtleness and almost unspoken, natural way a narrative can be transferred from the needs and concern for horses to the participants.   Our participation in the Horses for Hope program has been life changing.  Our daughter still grapples with extreme anxiety and the challenges that go with it, but I am encouraged and heartened to write that she has reduced her medication to 1 tablet per day under the supervision of a caring psychiatrist, obtained her driver’s license, gained employment, and at present is living overseas.   She is finding her place in the outside world, and this is in no small part due to her participation in therapy at Horse for Hope.

For us the idea of hope is no longer an idea it is a reality.    Horse for Hope not only gave us a life line, it changed the trajectory of our lives and for this we will be ever grateful to Colin and is team.