Stable Lives - the horses who are helping healing in Parbold
- Credit: Pics; John Cocks
A former event rider who broke both her arms in a fall has created a safe place for people going through difficult times.
Former armed service personnel and ex-emergency services staff are re-discovering their confidence and starting to re-build their lives by spending time with horses in Parbold.
People suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder are being helped through the Stable Lives programme at Parbold Equestrian Centre by former international event rider Carrie Byrom.
But it was when she overcame the trauma of a bad fall from a horse during a cross country event two years ago that Carrie decided to devote her life to helping others.
'The horse I was riding had literally never ever made a mistake before but that day, he made a huge one, which saw me fall under him,' she said. 'It resulted in smashed arms, a broken elbow and a totally obliterated wrist.
'Amazingly, I did make a recovery and started riding again but as all horse riders who have been in that position will know, my riding was never quite the same and so, two years ago, I decided to give it up and follow a different path.'
The not-for-profit organisation Stable Lives had been running for about a year at the time of Carrie's accident. Since getting back into a different saddle, Carrie has made a huge difference to many lives through the courses she runs at the centre, in which those suffering with PTSD can talk about their experiences and, through the horses, re-learn confidence and self-care.
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As an ex-military wife herself, Carrie knows just how difficult experiencing PTSD can be. And she added: 'It's pretty appropriate that rehabilitation goes on here at Parbold Equestrian Centre, as it really was our watchword before Stable Lives was even thought of! When my mum, Nicola bought it 20 years ago, to say it was ramshackle was an understatement but because we didn't have huge amounts of cash, we had to carry out lots of the jobs ourselves.
'It's amazing how quickly you learn to use carpenters' tools when it's either that or see more of the roof collapse around you,' laughs Carrie.
Having refurbished the centre, the next item on the agenda was to bring along horses but again, a lack of funds meant the family just couldn't go out and buy them.
'In the end it didn't matter because we brought along horses who for one reason or another, hadn't had great starts in life and we gently rehabilitated them. We've kept that tradition going and those horses are perfect for our work with Stable Lives because they know when someone is traumatised, needs gentleness, tenderness and they provide it,' explains Carrie.
'It's a bit like a dating agency sometimes! One piebald pony, Willow, had been treated in a very aggressive manner and so she became aggressive, rearing up when anyone tried to ride her but she was actually using that aggression to cover the fact that she was scared. We rehabilitated her and now she is great when working with people who are frightened, because she understands,' says Carrie.
Carrie always tries to match the personality of horse and human and one extra special relationship that has grown is the one between Teddy and Mike. An ex-military man, Mike came to Stable Lives for help with his PTSD and Teddy was hugely instrumental in helping his recovery.
'Teddy is a fine horse but he was kept on a small patch of land and fed erratically,' Carrie says. 'His owner wasn't cruel but didn't know how to look after him and when she died Teddy came here. He was frightened of open spaces and of stables and he didn't know how to trust but we stuck with him, trained him, loved him and now he has shown Mike how to have confidence again. They've both come through,' adds Carrie who also points out that those who come along don't need to be able to ride; they can just pet or groom the horses and there is always call for mucking out!
Mucking out is something that lots of children enjoy and Parbold Equestrian Centres also supports children in crisis through the charity, Safe Families.
As well as connecting with the horses, a space for talking was needed and sometimes, a solid brick, dark building isn't always a perfect venue for those who have experienced trauma.
'That's why we hit on the idea of a yurt but we wanted a comfortable one, complete with a wood burner and we were looking at £20,000.
'Local companies were hugely generous and I raised £5000 by sitting on a horse - we used different ones - for 24 hours, even though I was pregnant with my second child.
'One of my arms was still in plaster but I was fine until - in the middle of the night - the penny dropped with one pony and she realised that my broken arm meant that I couldn't pull her away from the treat bag, which she discovered in the corner.
'I tried pleading with her but to no avail, so in the end I joined her and snaffled a few sweets of my own that I had hidden in my pockets and we both munched away silently through the night,' laughs Carrie, who has also participated in a 24-hour stretcher-a-thon - carrying a stretcher up and down Parbold Hill - and is always on the lookout for more fundraising ideas.