Pony program helps participants clip-clop their way to wellbeing

Dealing with mental health issues can be hard; spending time with ponies for a Murray Mallee GP Network program, not as much.

October is Mental Health Awareness Month. This is the third in a series of free-to-read stories about looking after ourselves and the people around us, and seeking help when we need it. We all have a role to play. Please consider supporting this series by subscribing.

When your mental health suffers, it can be easy to lose social connections and shut yourself off from the community.

That was Andrew Bensch’s experience with PTSD: he became nervous, shy and scared about going out.

But he – and other Murraylands locals – have found a way back.

What tool has he used?

Spanner the horse.

“It has been a wonderful thing for me and for my life to be able to bond with horses,” Mr Bensch said.

“The feeling you get from horses, and being with them, helps with life’s struggles.

“The peace, the joy you get from having a partnership with a horse, the love you share, the trust ... learning those things is easier with a horse.”

Lining up with Pocahontas, Minnie, Peter Pan, Spanner and Magnum are Diana Gibbs, Natasha Slevec, Kristin Gore, Andrew Bensch and Ashley Barnard. Photo: Peri Strathearn.

Mr Bench is one of several current participants in a Murray Mallee GP Network program which partners people living with mental health issues with ponies.

Participants have been meeting at the riding club next to Murray Bridge Showground, though this Monday they visited Coolibah Lodge, the east side property more often used by Riding for the Disabled.

It wasn’t a therapy program, strictly speaking, said mental health clinician Diana Gibbs.

But it was helpful.

“It offers connection, calmness and fun and friendship,” she said.

“It’s aimed at being a wellbeing program where you come, have fun and make new friends.”

The chance to get some fresh air under a blue sky was a positive, too, said Natasha Slevec, another participant.

“I just love to be around nature,” she said.

“It calms me.

“Having good people around, too, that helps.”

The GP Network runs pony programs for both adults and young people, and hopes to take the idea to Mannum and Tailem Bend in the near future.

Participants brush their horses, lead them on a walk around the quiet streets, and socialise.

Anyone is able to join in, with no need for a GP referral; a small fee may apply, but may be included in a participant’s NDIS plan if they have one.

“Something like one in six people have anxiety and depression, and there’s a lot of people who are isolated,” Ms Gibbs said.

“This is an opportunity to mix in an environment without any threats.”

  • Register for a Monday program: Call Ella Nance on 0437 590 850.

  • More information: Call 8531 1303, email reception@mmgpn.org.au or visit the Murray Mallee GP Network at 55 Adelaide Road, Murray Bridge.

Previous Mental Health Awareness Month stories:

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