When White Angels Horse Rescue outbid the doggers for “Junior” at Echuca Saleyards four years ago, they could hardly imagine that he would become the poster child of a revolution in human and equine therapy.

White Angels has recently closed its doors because amongst other things it was finding it almost impossible to reliably re-home horses like Junior which had been traumatised by his racing industry experience.

“He was frightened by everything”, said Colin Emonson, manager of equine assisted therapy charity Horses For Hope which took on Junior when most others would not.

Junior is just one of the thousands of horses who leave the racing industry each year.

Junior with Hayley Madden

“When we got Junior you could not touch his neck" said Horses For Hope director Colin Emonson.

The big thoroughbred with a gorgeous stride that any dressage rider would be envious of, had many problems to overcome.

He was very insecure and frightened, every new thing was just so difficult for him, being caught was very hard for him.  Being in a float without totally freaking out was impossible, his anxiety was so high he would shake and sweat. He would pull away from any touch anywhere on his body, any quick movements caused him concern and as would any unusual noise nearby. The world was a very scary place for Junior and people were the scariest thing of all.

We thought these fears were well founded for Junior and they were going to take a long time to overcome. This proved to be correct, but with patience, kindness and a lot of help from participants and our Horses For Hope team, slowly but surely Junior started to trust and the world became a safer place for him.

“It was these insecurities that made him a good horse for our kind of therapy”, Colin explained.

“Initially it was only the more experienced of our participants that worked with Junior for safety reasons”.

“It meant that our participants had to be very aware of remaining as calm as possible when working with Junior. But over time as his concerns diminished and were replaced with trust, he began to work with our less experienced and even the more fragile of our participants, as he became more able to give in return.

For participants who in many cases had anxiety issues of their own, knowing of Junior’s own traumatic background helped them to relate to the horse and gave them a stake in his future by taking responsibility for his welfare.

So by helping Junior through many therapy sessions with increasingly complex tasks to perform with him, a variety of participants have given the horse and themselves increasing confidence and capacity to handle stressful situations and the confidence in their own ability and to make changes in their own difficult life situations.

On any commercial basis it is unlikely that desensitising Junior to the point he is now at would be affordable. However the hundreds of hours he has spent with participants has effectively been paid for by the fees for their therapy, much of which have been paid by supporting agencies or donations to Horses For Hope.

Former participant Phillipa who now works for Horses For Hope observed:

“This horse did not choose to be born, nor did he choose to be sent to the saleyard just because he wasn’t good enough to race.”

“Junior is such a sweet caring gentle boy when he feels safe. He wants nothing more than to always feel safe but its just so hard for him. We are still working with him with the help of our participants to get him through his troubles and we are hopeful one day he will make someone very happy, maybe even as a riding horse or maybe a companion. Either way we are excited for him.”

“Junior now has a purpose and has helped a lot of people. Junior is a big horse who got lucky and has Hope.”