‘They have given me purpose’: inspiring rider opens up about how horses helped reclaim her life

A rider who has faced serious mental health issues has opened up about the incredible way horses have helped her reclaim her life to help encourage others going through hard times not to give up.

Melissa Pinfield-Wells was bullied through school and diagnosed with being on the autistic spectrum aged 13.

She started self-harming as a teenager, at the age of 18 was admitted to a psychiatric unit after trying to take her own life, since which time she has spent years in and out of psychiatric wards.

Melissa said her life is now “hugely different” and horses have given her the confidence to do go out and do things.

“I didn’t think I would ever be able to find any joy out of life because I just felt so guilty that I felt the way I did and couldn’t see how anything could ever change,” she said.

“Working with horses helped give me a purpose and find my place in the world.”

Melissa is hoping her story will inspire others who are going through tough times to keep going.

“I was training as a biomedical scientist, doing a degree I loved, but I couldn’t cope with being employed,”she told H&H.

“I kind of resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to work and I would be off sick on benefits for the rest of my life.”

Having ridden since she was a child, Melissa said the equestrian world was the first place she felt she “fitted in and made friends”.

“While I was off sick I spent a lot of time with the horses — I’m pretty good with horses, not so much with people, but I can understand and communicate with them,” she explained.

Melissa started offering her services in riding and teaching as a hobby and her business has now grown over the past four years to become an established full-livery yard. She also does freelance teaching and riding alongside competing her own horses in affiliated dressage and is training in animal physiotherapy.

“I didn’t want to be off sick, I didn’t cope very well when I was — having the yard and having the horses keeps me going and competing my own horses gives me something to aim for and having that aim keeps me focused,” she said.

“It doesn’t matter how crap I feel and how bad everything is, I can always get on a horse and ride — that is something I know I can do.

“The autism has helped me with the horses, if I wasn’t on the spectrum I don’t think I would have the understanding I do — I see horses in a different way and that helps me look at where a problem is starting from. I find horses quite simple compared to people.”

Melissa thanked her family, two GPs and the DPJ Foundation — a charity that helps support people in rural areas with mental health conditions — for helping her to achieve what some had said was not possible.

Since starting working with horses, Melissa has become financially independent, kept her job and has had her first long period of time (about three years) out of hospital.

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She also credits her main horse, “Bernard”, for giving her the drive to carry on, adding that his quirky nature means few people want to handle him, so she knows she has to get up and look after him.

“He is absolutely fantastic, although he is really naughty — he bites and kicks and a lot of people can’t understand why I keep him, but he gave me a bit of a push and has always cheered me up,” she said.

He is so sensitive to my feelings, if I am having a bit of a tough time he really keeps me on my toes like he is trying to remind me I have to stay strong! Yet if I am really struggling he is the most kind and loving animal, it’s like he knows I just need him to make my life a bit easier and he does. He always knows what he needs to do to put a smile on my face.”

Melissa gave Bernard his show name —Folie A Deux — where two people share the same delusion —as a nod to her troubles and to everything the pair of them have overcome together.

“I want other people to see that just because someone wrote you off doesn’t mean it is true. I can’t be the only person who others have told them ‘you are not going to be able to do it’,” she said.

“Find something you are passionate about and use it to your advantage. I can work with horses despite my issues — it doesn’t matter how bad of a day I’m having, if I have a horse in front of me it becomes a good day.

“If my story helps even one person, that is good enough for me.”

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