Waitetuna venture uses horses to help its clients out of trough

block of land on the corner of Waitetuna Valley Road and SH23 has been transformed over the past six months – new fences, gates and driveways along with grazing horses – as owners Sue and Sarah Court carve out a new lifestyle centred on a unique counselling business called Earthhorse Aotearoa. 

“We’ve always loved Raglan, and to be able to live here is fabulous,” Sarah enthuses. It’s been a favourite holiday spot for years, say these keen Kiwi horsewomen, the main attraction being the beach where they love to ride.

It was three years ago now – while on one of their holidays here – that the pair bought the 11-acre property, which includes an acre of protected native forest. But it’s only this year, since returning from a stint living in Australia, they’ve got stuck in and developed the property to meet the needs of their venture.

Waitetuna locals have watched with interest if not downright friendliness, they say of their efforts to establish on the property a “therapy herd” on which the health of both horses and humans rests.

Two of the six horses – their riding horses – were trucked from Queensland where Sue and Sarah lived, and shipped across the Tasman, while they’ve acquired others they call rescue horses which are recovering from bad treatment such as abandonment or starvation.

Working with and rehabilitating horses as they do means these animals become sensitive to people and therefore very useful in human therapy, explains Sue who’s qualified in equine-assisted counselling through the Equine Psychotherapy Institute in Victoria, Australia.

She counsels clients who may choose to work with the horses as part of their therapy. “You don’t have to be a horsey person to work with them,” she points out. It’s not about actually riding the horses; rather that those seeking solace might find their presence a comfort, in much the same way as dogs and cats are sometimes used in therapy.

Sue likens this kind of therapy to that of New Zealand’s charitable Riding for the Disabled organisation which has provided an opportunity for and encouraged confidence in its disabled riders over many years.

“Some of our best teachers are horses,” Sue insists. People are drawn to a horse with a particular background, and horses are drawn to people with specific issues in their lives, she says. “They’re intuitive, hugely emotional animals.”

Sue and Sarah have seen a client who was dealing with boundary issues, for instance, nudged quite forcefully by a horse literally getting in their space. This type of situation “provides a metaphor to be explored” between practitioner and client, they say.

In such a case Sue might set up an experiential learning situation to help the client make a move to get the horse out of the way. “If they can do it with a horse – establish confidence – they learn to be more assertive with people.”

But there are a few arms to the “business banner” when it comes to the holistic healing of horse and human, Sarah reveals.  Sue for instance is also an equine touch practitioner – she qualified through the Equine Touch Foundation in Australia – specialising in hands-on body work to help relieve muscle injury and strain, along with hoof trimming for horses throughout the Waikato.

The pair were in fact busy with that line of the business only last Saturday, spending hours trimming hooves in Cambridge. Healthy hooves are vital to the wellbeing of the whole horse, they insist. As part of that, Sue travels and runs successful clinics in various areas for horse-owners to learn to do the job themselves.

Sarah’s “handy with the horses” too, Sue adds, but her forte is the business acumen she brings to Earthhorse Aotearoa.

“And she pays the bills,” Sue quips. Because while Sue’s been sloshing around in mud every day doing the farm work, Sarah has to work to “keep the horses in clover”, they laugh.

Trained as a classical singer, she’s a booking agent – with the unlikely job of arranging gigs for pop musicians – in Auckland, where she shares a flat from Monday to Friday. Then it’s back to Waitetuna each weekend to help Sue with the farm work and ride on the beach.

The pair sometimes take their two miniature horses to the beach too, where they walk them on leads like dogs. The minis, as they call them, offer another alternative in equine-assisted counselling because they’re not as intimidating to some people as are the larger horses.

Like Sarah, Sue also has a musical background. She’s had a professional career both as a classical musician and an academic, where she trained students over several decades. Now she teaches classical guitar one day a week at the Old School in Stewart Street, and is also about to play at a local café.

The pair were not about to divulge their respective ages to the Chronicle, but reckon they’re young at heart. “Neither of us has grown up yet,” adds Sarah.

And while for now they’re in rented accommodation in nearby Cogswell Road – all they have on site are a shipping container and a counselling hut – the dream is definitely to “build on this land” they’ve invested in.

It may be early days but they’re in no doubt that their unusual venture will be a success. “We’ve a lot of life experience between us, we’ve been around the traps.”

Edith Symes

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