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How equine assisted learning helped Andy Farmer battle his addiction to alcohol
FOR Andy Farmer it’s a moment that brings a lump to his throat.
Tommy, the most wild and flighty pony of the herd, is trotting around a field with his tail held high.
But within seconds he trusts Andy so much he bows his head in submission and follows him around the field in scenes similar to the 1998 film The Horse Whisperer.
For Andy their remarkable bond is a reminder that horses have saved his life.
Just a year ago Andy hit rock bottom and felt worthless.
His alcohol addiction was slowly killing him.
He had lost his job as an HGV driver and had so little confidence and self-belief that he would shut himself away in his flat, ignore the phone and drink as many cans his body could take.
The 46-year-old became so desperate he found himself in hospital three times in as many months after taking overdoses.
“It would have killed me,” he says.
“Drink took over my life. I couldn’t do anything without some sort of drink inside me.
"My self confidence was so low.
“I decided I was just going to drink myself to death.
“I would start drinking in the morning, then basically I’d drink as many cans my body could take that day until I passed out. I wasn’t in a good place.”
But determined to turn his life around, Andy hasn’t looked back since he was offered equine assisted learning following a detox programme with Hampshire County Council’s Substance Misuse Team.
Tower House Horses in Micheldever. Andy Farmer, Susie Little and Jo Simpson.
For two hours each week he went to Tower House Horses in Micheldever Station, run by equine assisted learning (EAL) facilitators Susie Little and Jo Simpson, where he spent time learning the skills needed to earn the trust of the horses and re-finding a belief in himself.
And Andy’s favourite pony, Tommy, is among the new army of animals helping therapists to treat everything from addiction to autism to post-traumatic stress disorder, and even build relationships in a corporate team.
Since completing the course Andy has turned his life around.
He has given up drink and has even got a full time job for the first time in four years, as a cleaner in a care home.
Today he is back at the stables telling Susie and Jo how much he enjoys chatting to the elderly residents there.
But Andy can’t wait to go into the field and immediately heads over to see Tommy.
Within a few moments the Exmoor pony settles and begins following Andy’s every move, even without a halter.
Andy’s face lights up and watching their close bond is heart warming.
The broad grin on Andy’s face serves as proof at just how powerful these animals can be in therapy.
It is moving that simply gaining a horse’s acceptance can lift someone from depression, giving them a renewed sense of self worth.
Susie, who said the sessions do not involve riding the ponies, explained the philosophy behind the learning technique which has attracted celebrity clients including actor Robert Downey Jr, model Sophie Anderton and football star Gazza.
She said as a herd animal attuned to stress and body language, a horse will move away from an angry and conflicted person and become unsettled when it senses fear but follow someone it trusts.
“Because horses respond to our true thoughts and emotions instantly, they are the perfect mirror.
“They give accurate feedback about our behaviour and reflect to us with absolute clarity our strengths and weaknesses.
“With human interactions we can hide a lot of what is going on inside because we can talk. Horses deal with you on a subconscious, instinctive and emotional level so they can show us things about ourselves which we aren’t aware of.
“They can look behind our masks.
“Here we try to give people an insight into how to change their internal state so they know it is possible.
“We show people what affect they can have on a horse once they change something inside.
“This is not some kind of magic thing, this is really tiny subtle insights people get into themselves which they can take away and use, which have a fundamental impact on their everyday life and their relationships with other people.
Susie and Jo said the main attraction with horses is that they do not judge people.
“They are very accepting of you how you are at that exact moment, whatever your history. Horses give you that acceptance.”
And it’s that acceptance which has transformed Andy’s life.
He smiles: “I got so much out of it. I kept getting more and more confident and I learnt a lot about myself.
“When horses show you emotion, they are doing it because they want to do it. It must mean you are a nice person and that makes you feel good inside.
“When I talk to the horses I do thank them so much. If it wasn’t for them, I’d be in a very different place.
“I feel more positive now about my future. I haven’t been this happy in a very long time and hopefully it will continue.”
For more information see towerhousehorses.co.uk.
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