At the start of last year Louise Moorhead and Patricia Phelan made the brave decision to dedicate themselves to their own equine aided therapy business, but it was a process that was years in the making.
In fact, the Derry pair had been studying and working on the concept of using horses to aid therapy and learning programmes for over a decade before they took the bold step of forming Equine Enrichment in January 2017.
“When I first started this journey, I was working full time to support my business and having to juggle both career paths was extremely difficult,” explained Louise who holds a BSc Honours Degree in Psychology and a PG Dip in Counselling and Communication Therapy.
“I had a passion for horses from a young age and during my studies I learned about animal assisted therapies to help people overcome mental health issues and improve emotional well-being.
“I began to research Equine assisted therapies and came across EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth & Learning Association).
“I attended their training programmes and continued to further improve and develop my skills.”
After spending several years honing her Equine Assisted Therapy and learning programme, Louise knew that if she wanted to take the idea to the next level and make it a sustainable business she would have to give it her full focus and leave her day job.
“All the years gaining the relevant qualifications and training courses have helped build, grow and expand my business,” she explained.
“I was terrified to leave my job and concentrate on Equine Enrichment full time but in order to grow and achieve my ambitions I needed to take the risk and it has been one of my best decisions.
“In 2017 I started a community interest company which has opened many doors and I am working closely with interesting people who are supportive and excited about the approach we are taking to improve people’s lives.
“Equine therapy has been running in other countries for over 20 years I am delighted that we have introduced this into the North West with plans to expand further.”
Equine Enrichment now offer bespoke therapeutic and personal development programmes for individuals and groups, theme based workshops and overnight residential packages.
Their team are highly trained experienced professionals that facilitate fun and engaging equine led activities and discussions that promote a sense of well being and the start of a positive journey towards personal growth and development using the Eagala model.
Among the treatments they offer are teaching teamwork, communication and problem solving, helping individuals face fears and providing a safe environment for people to address emotional roadblocks.
“Horses make great companions for psychotherapy because they can mirror and respond to human behavior,” Louise explained.
“I get great pleasure when I see people developing a bond with my horse ‘Buddy’ who provides such a sense of calm and comfort to people with stressful situations.
“Buddy is everyone's best friend, a gentle giant who loves attention and the therapy here is administered out of the saddle.
“We see considerable improvement in children’s communication and social skills as a direct result of this program.
“To watch as people get an emotional connection with the horses is very rewarding, the horses become their friends, there is a bond and it helps them get in touch with their feelings.
“In trusting a horse, they learn to trust you. When you have been hurt, it is harder to be around human beings and with a horse there is no judgement.”
“It is great being in a position to offer people a safe space where they can come and spend time with the horses and work through some of their issues.”
While the owners had built up the experience to offer their bespoke service, she received guidance from Derry City and Strabane District Council’s Business Support team to help navigate them through the challenges of start-up.
Louise admits that if she had any advice to others considering setting up their own business it would be to consult with as many people as possible before making decisions.
“Never try to do everything on your own,” she argued. “Surround yourself with people who are supportive, trustworthy and passionate about what you are trying to achieve.
“The best way to raise awareness about your business is by talking with people, your passion and motivation will push you in the right direction.
“Prepare yourself for criticism and always follow your dreams.
“I would personally like to thank everyone who has supported Equine Enrichment to date, you all know who you are.”
To learn more about how Equine Enrichment can help anyone’s journey into self discovery and positive change access their website on www.equineenrichment.co.uk.
For more details about how Derry City and Strabane District Council’s Business Support, Tourism & Rural Development teams can help existing, start up and prospective businesses go to http://www.derrystrabane.com/businesssupport and http://www.derrystrabane.com/RBIS.