Horse Retreats Are Becoming Increasingly Mane-stream

equine therapy australia

If you’re looking for a way to de-stress and feel calmer, consider a horse retreat. Australia has a handful of dedicated horse retreats, including Sugar Beach Ranch and Eden Equine in NSW and Heart of the Horse and Dark Horse Farm in Victoria, which practice equine therapy, also called equine wellness or equine-assisted learning.

“Equine-assisted learning is where we harness the wisdom of horses, in a facilitated environment, to help people explore aspects of their lives that are causing concern or even distress,” says Rachael Gibson, owner of Heart of the Horse, which offers day or three-day retreats in Central Victoria.

The benefits of spending time with calm, healthy and happy horses are immense, Gibson says. The horses are wonderful teachers, and everything guests of the retreat learn in the paddock is relevant for them to take into their everyday lives. Gibson says she’s often seen horses help people to become aware of the tension in their bodies.

Equine therapy Australia
Image: Sugar Beach Retreat

“The horses help people uncover wounds, patterns and beliefs that can be unconscious are not serving them,” she says. “The horses have an incredible ability to connect people deeply into their own hearts.”

Heather Swan, co-founder and co-owner of Dark Horse Farm, which coordinates three-day or tailored women-only retreats in Yackandandah, a 3.5-hour drive northeast of Melbourne puts it: horses are sensitive and vigilant to body language and movement, and therefore reflect the inner world of their humans. For those not keen on riding them at Swan’s retreats, she says that’s fine — you’ll still experience wellness benefits simply being with them.

“This honest, non-judgemental feedback can provide valuable insight into the self, and offer opportunities for self-awareness, personal growth and a deeper connection to the present moment,” she says.

Eden Equine horse retreat
Image: Eden Equine

Eden Equine in Bilpin, NSW began as a private retreat for couple Michael Cthurmer and Deborah Goodman when their youngest child was diagnosed with behavioural issues affecting schooling and family life. The family decided they needed a space to recharge as a family, and the retreat grew organically from there.

“Being around horses is incredibly calming,” says Goodman. “They are so large and magnificent and pick up on your energy. It is the most wonderful feeling when they trust you, as they are very gentle around you and love to cuddle.”

For Maxime Willems, head of equine wellness at Sugar Beach Ranch and founder of Maxime Willems Therapy and Training, being with horses makes her feel more adventurous, playful and authentic. Willems says horses allow her to show up as herself in the moment, without feeling the need to apologise for that.

“My personal experience with horses started when I was six years old when I rode horses on a professional dressage stable in Europe,” Willems says. “The most enjoyable experiences were when it was just me and the horses, whether out in the paddock, when I was brushing them or on a trail ride.”

Equine therapy Australia
Image: Dark Horse Farm

Willems believes guests at Sugar Beach are looking for reconnection, a sense of belonging and healing, but without only doing talk therapy. These days, she says people struggling with their mental and emotional health are becoming aware that only talking about the challenges they face might not be enough to support their general well-being.

“Horses are herd animals that live in authentic relationships with each other, which allows for people to have experiences that help them to regulate their nervous system, grow awareness around what challenges them in life, become curious about the quality of their relationships and boost their self-esteem,” she says.

Equine activities at Sugar Beach Ranch include horsemanship, like grooming or going for walks, and riding. The horses have been picked for their exceptional ability to remain unfazed by distractions and their capacity to handle unpredictable human behaviour. Horse owners are also welcome to bring their own pets for an additional charge.

Willems says she sees a promising future for equine wellness in Australia, as it gains recognition as a legitimate and effective therapeutic intervention. She sees equine wellness sessions integrated into different healthcare settings, including partnerships with corporations, professional development programs and rehab centres.

“The gentle facilitated sessions with horses are very somatic, and guests learn about how we need to incorporate more embodied practices into their lives to help them move through intense emotional times,” says Gibson. “Horses are masters at showing us how to do this.”

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