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August 23, 2019

Looking into the eyes of another

RSL LifeCare Picton equine instructor Max Streeter tells the story of a serviceman whose demeanour changed once he had groomed and saddled his horse.  

He was speaking as the co-ordinator of a program which assisted returned soldiers suffering post-traumatic stress, and the frail, by providing therapeutic time with horses. 

 He arrives quite rattled,” Mr Streeter said of the gentleman. “Nothing is right. Then he grabs his saddle and he heads down to groom his horse. He comes back a different person – telling jokes and full of conversation.” 

The instructor said there were great benefits in bringing returned service people, “first responders” and the elderly, into contact with horses.  

Eight horses were presently homed at Queen Victoria Park, in Picton, which is owned by RSL LifeCare. The John Goodlet Manor Residential Aged Care Home is on the same grounds. 

“A miniature horse, a pony named Precious, spends time with residents of the village,” he said. 

Those normally disengaged become engaged. You can see a spark in them. Their spirits lift. Their minds are ticking over.” 

Mr Streeter said the other part of the program instructed veterans on retraining and riding thoroughbreds, so they could become horses for pleasure rather than horses for racing.   

“It’s an eight-month course which culminates with a three-day ride on Mount Kosciuszko, he said. 

During treks, the riding party visited cabins built in the 1800s, and caves used by stockmeof the high country. 

Mr Streeter knew first-hand the rewards of this therapy. This veteran, who dedicated decades of his life to the military, was medically discharged in 2003 as a result of injuries and illness from service, including PTSD. 

The former UN Peacekeeper, Australian Federal Police officer and armoured core soldier, was part of a similar program when it was in its infancy five years ago.  

“It was so beneficial I asked myself what I could do to put something back into this,” he said. 

“We also train volunteers from Homes for Heroes in horse handling.  

“There is a certain energy working with horses – people’s problems seem to go away. 

“In Australia, we are still catching up (to the USwhen it comes to using horses for therapy.” 

Mr Streeter praised the commitment of RSL LifeCarestating the program would not exist without its support.  

 

Story by Rod Bennett

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