‘I credit Murphy with getting my head straight’: when horses have healing powers

  • When times get hard, our four-legged friends really come into their own — in fact, sometimes, they’re our saviours…

    Cath Lodge, 36, from Hertfordshire

    Cath and Murphy

    I’ve ridden since I was young, and in 1988, I was given a four-year old Connemara x ID, Murphy. He was a bit wild and unpredictable, but we had a ball doing sponsored rides and eventing, and I adored him.

    I trained as a police officer, and in 2011, I was assaulted whilst on general patrol, and badly injured, dislocating my jaw and shoulder, and sustaining head injuries. All I wanted to do, as soon as I was released from hospital, was see Murphy and take him out.

    It was risky, because I couldn’t hold the reins properly due to my injuries, and I had a tendency to randomly faint. But it was as if Murphy knew all this.

    In a heartbeat, he went from being a mad Irishman to my sensible, steady rock. Even when I fainted on board, he looked after me — waited until I came round, then took me home.

    I was later diagnosed with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder — common amongst those who’ve experienced violent combat, PTSD occurs when sufferers are still experiencing an extreme reaction to the traumatic event months or even years later). Murphy was my healer.

    It took months until I was myself again, and I credit him with getting my head straight. He retired with arthritis in 2011, and passed away in 2014, aged 30, with me by his side — I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

    Christina Dance, 24, Buckinghamshire

    Christina and Jack 2

    In 2012, my mum was in a horrific car accident. It was very nearly fatal — she was airlifted from the scene, and put in an induced coma.

    When she was finally discharged, she’d sustained life-changing injuries which meant she couldn’t look after herself as she’d used to, and she struggled to take care of me and my brother. I fell apart.

    Traumatised by how close I’d come to losing her, I lost interest in college and my grades suffered, but I didn’t care. I’d passed my driving test a week before Mum’s accident, but I was scared to drive. The only thing that kept me going was my ex-racehorse, Jack.

    A typical thoroughbred, he was — and is — extremely quirky! He’d arrived mentally scarred from a hard life racing and playing polo, and was never going to be 100%. But he was so cute — he can undo zips, and steals his head-collar out of your hand if you’re late feeding him.

    However low I felt, I had to muck out and ride. Once I finished college, I went to New Zealand for a year. Jack was put out on loan, but it didn’t work out, and he ended up coming home — and Mum and her partner looked after him.

    She has Parkinson’s Syndrome now, and has struggled with being less active than she was before, but — just as he’d done with me — looking after Jack gave her a reason to get up in the morning. She went from being scared of horses to calling him her ‘Grand-horse!’ In the end, he healed Mum as much as he did me.

    Tash Hou, 16, from Cambridgeshire

    Tash and Balou

    I was eight-years-old and Baloo was seven when Mum rescued him from an owner who couldn’t afford him — and was scared of him.

    A 15.2hh Anglo-Arab, he was beautiful to look at, but he’d been in a road traffic accident that really affected his personality — he bit and kicked and had horrible manners.

    I was a bit scared of him too, and didn’t start riding him until I broke my ankle in March 2014. I was on rest for six weeks after I came out of hospital, and couldn’t really do anything.

    I ended up piling on a lot of weight — and when I went back to school, I was bullied because of it. Determined to shut the bullies up and lose the weight, I decided that Baloo would be my path to fitness — I’d lose enough weight to ride him, then ride myself fit!

    I started eating healthily, and did loads of groundwork with Baloo. We both got a lot out of it — the weight dropped off, and I realised Baloo was starting to listen and to trust me.

    After losing a stone and a half, I began riding him in October 2014. Since then, we’ve gone from strength to strength. We compete in showjumping and hunter trials, and hack out alone — even walking calmly across flyovers, which is a big deal, considering his traffic accident.

    We have a great partnership, and he’s given me the confidence to break in and bring on two young horses. I’m not frightened by bullies any more, either. If I can handle Baloo, I can handle anything.

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    Michelle Low, 40, from Essex

    Shell, Molly and her Shetland

    I fell in love with Molly the moment I saw her on the RSPCA stand at Equifest 2013. The little 14.2hh gypsy cob had been fully rehabilitated after being found in a field, emaciated and unable to stand, and was looking for a new home. She was shown in the rescue horses section of the show, and won her class. She came home with me! I’ve suffered from depression my entire life, but a couple of years ago , I was prescribed a combination of medication that had an awful effect on me.

    My mental health took a steep downturn, I had suicidal thoughts, and I struggled with the everyday tasks I’d always taken for granted. Unable to cope, my partner of nine years left me.

    Heartbroken, I turned to Molly for comfort — and she provided it in spades. She was always there with a soft whicker and rub of her muzzle when I was at a particularly low ebb.

    Now our partnership is stronger than ever. She can be mareish at times — but I always forgive her. She lives with my sister’s two geldings, and we have loads of fun hacking, as well as doing in-hand showing. She’s done really well as a show cob — although we’re modelling the natural look at the moment and she’s very hairy! She’s my Molly in a million.

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