‘Suddenly everything made sense’: how horses are helping a young man recover from an eating disorder

  • As a teenager, Jamie Pye (pictured) was bullied at school, which led to him developing an eating disorder. But now, aged 26, Jamie’s life has been transformed for the better, and it’s all thanks to horses. And now he has bravely agreed to speak out about his experience in the hope that his story can help others.

    Jamie received treatment for anorexia as a child, but when he turned 18, he struggled to find treatment due to a lack of adult services. He became distant from friends and had no social life — Jamie’s eating disorder dominated his life for years.

    “I always had an interest in animals and wanted to work with them but I lost all hope of ever being able to do so, as with an eating disorder you feel you just are not good enough to do the things you want to do,” explains Jamie, who went on to secure a place at a local college where he studied animals. While at college, Jamie contacted Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity, and soon he became an ambassador for the organisation. He started volunteering for them, something that he says helped build his confidence.

    Beat recognised Jamie’s passion for animals, and suggested that the animals themselves could actually aid his recovery.

    “Beat knew that throughout my experiences, I always had a love for animals,” says Jamie. “They had heard of a lady, Jo Corfield, who ran a business called HopeThruHorses, where she treats people for a variety of behavioural and psychological conditions with the use of her horses. Beat wanted someone to interview Jo as she had been through an eating disorder herself and her own horse is what helped her through it. I jumped at the chance as it was something I was passionate about — I was then also given the opportunity to go and meet her which was an absolutely amazing experience.”

    Jo uses equine involvement therapy with 18 horses and ponies that live out 24/7 at her Carmarthenshire base. Hopethruhorses says: “Undercover of sometimes desperate and long-term symptoms it’s all too easy to lose sight of who we are. ‘Self’ disappears under layers of pain and overwhelming emotions, diagnoses, labels and endless analyses of the life story that has led us to this point. We become identified and judged for our presenting symptoms if not by others, certainly by ourselves. When ‘self’ is lost then accessing confidence and a strong connection with who you are becomes difficult or even impossible. Our herd lives out – they roam freely and naturally – they are given the freedom to become real horses without expectations, pressures or unnecessary human intervention — we allow them to be their ‘true selves’. Here with us, we give you the opportunity to do the same.”

    “I realised Jo and I had been on a similar journey with our eating disorders,” says Jamie. “She showed me the work she carries out with her horses and suddenly everything made sense. Working with a herd of horses and ponies meant that the relationship between us was based entirely on trust. It was about living for the now and not the past or future. In less than a month, I felt like a completely different person. I’m still in recovery, but I’m come such a long way.”

    Jamie started working with horses five years ago and is now a full-time member of the equine centre team at the Redwings Horse Sanctuary HQ in Norfolk.

    “I help with the basic care of some of the 230 horses in Redwings’ care,” explains Jamie. “I love spending time with horses, and what I have learnt through Hopethruhorses is to go with the flow. No matter what, I know now that the life I have now is worth fighting to stay in recovery for.

    “To anyone else out there who might be suffering from an eating disorder, I would say be open-minded to the idea of seeking therapy through animals such as horses. Everyone needs to realise how powerful the connection between a person and horse can be — you help them and they will help you.”

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    Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that affect an estimated 1.25 million people in the UK.

    Beat’s head of communications Rebecca Field says: “Eating disorders cause a huge amount of suffering for people with the illnesses and their families, but recovery is possible. On average it takes three-and-a-half years for someone to receive treatment for an eating disorder after they first fall ill. But the sooner someone gets treatment for an eating disorder, the better their chances of recovery.

    “Anyone worried about their own health or that of someone they know can contact Beat’s Helpline 365 days a year via phone, email, anonymous one-to-one webchat or social media messaging. Find out how to contact us here: www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk”.

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