A WOMAN who had never had or wanted horses in her life told the world how without a rescued, non-ridden pony, she does not believe she would still be here.
Debbie Matthews founded Go Racing Green, which aims to help people who love the sport but have challenges to go to events, combat isolation and make racecourses more inclusive. She was one of the speakers at the World Horse Welfare online conference on 12 November.
In keeping with the theme of the horse-human partnership, she spoke about a “mutually transformational” relationship.
“I’d never touched a horse until five years ago,’ she said. “I had friends who rode and they always seemed to be breaking limbs; I was petrified of horses.”
But five years ago, Ms Matthews was suffering with bad mental health issues, with no prospect of help in the immediate future.
Then a horse staying at a livery yard near her house kept reappearing over her garden fence.
“He ended up being my best friend that summer,” she said. “I’ve no doubt that talking to him, being with him, having contact with him saved my life. When he left in November, it was like my arm had been cut off; I’d never thought a horse could mean that much or be so beneficial to my mental health.”
Ms Matthews started having lessons and bought a pony, but she was “petrified” and eventually sold him when she became pregnant.
“I was still very troubled,” she said. “I couldn’t work out how to get what I needed from a horse while giving the horse what it needed.”
Ms Matthews started visiting World Horse Welfare’s Glenda Spooner Farm, where she met Rosie, a young rescued mare who could not be ridden. After an assessment and much soul-searching, two years ago, she took her home.
“Every day, Rosie saves me,” she said. “If you’d told me five years ago I’d find solace in horses, I’d have bet all I had on the fact it wouldn’t happen. But it has.”
Before she found Rosie, Ms Matthews got her horse fix by watching racing on television. She particularly followed National Hunt star Altior, and when she said on Twitter she was determined to beat her anxiety and go to a racecourse to watch him, her life changed.
“The tweet went viral, and I ended up going to Nicky Henderson’s yard for a photoshoot. Hundreds of people got in touch to say they loved racing but had conditions that prevented them from going.”
Go Racing Green was born, and members have been meeting on racedays and supporting each other ever since, while Ms Matthews is working on beter inclusivity for all in racing.
She also wants to raise awareness of the vital role non-ridden equids can have; she much prefers not having the pressure of “needing” to ride or of others saying horse should never be field ornaments.
“Rosie has got a job; it’s looking after me,” she said. “The horse-human partnership is vital to mental health, and you don’t have to ride. This is a relationship we really need to shout about, and give more people the chance to experience.
“Without Rosie, I wouldn’t still be here. She was, and remains, my saviour.”