Horse haven teaches kids about compassion and healing
A WINDING, glistening creek hugs the paddock as you enter this stunning property tucked far away in the Tweed Valley and a haven not only for rescued horses but for children traumatised by the recent floods.
Nestled between Wollumbin and the Border Ranges, just west of the beautiful village of Tyalgum, keen equestrian Bianca Mercuri is weaving her magic, nurturing her eight horses, many rescued from traumatic circumstances, over the past five years.
Now, in the wake of the trauma of the recent floods, Ms Mercuri has switched her focus to include children, establishing her Second Chance Equine Program, designed to bring child and horse together in mutual support.
"It was around the time of the floods and there was a special little girl in Murwillumbah who lost her father at Knox Park,” she said.
"She inspired me to just reach out. She's the little girl who inspired the whole thing.”
Ms Mercuri approached Murwillumbah-based community group It Takes a Town, and put forward the idea of free riding lessons, particularly for children who had lost their home in the March floods, or had endured other hardships.
The 10-week program, which wraps up this week, has been about much more than riding, she said.
"They come here first and they'll bond with the horses and get to know them,” Ms Mercuri said.
"Then they get to learn some trust exercises on the ground.
"By the time they get on, I want them to be so relaxed and comfortable with the horse that it's a really positive thing.
"It just eliminates that apprehensiveness. It's just a lot more rewarding.”
While many of the horses have been through their own hardships, the connection they build with the children is astounding.
Like the youngsters, the horses have diverse back-stories and all have their own personality.
There's the tall, dark and calm Nelson, who keeps the others in line.
There's Zena, a stunning mare who Ms Mercuri said isn't usually the most forward horse, but is fascinated by the camera nonetheless.
Rumbird, a former racehorse who won many races and plenty of money in his time but broke down at the height of his career, had found a new lease on life as part of the program.
One horse, found abandoned without food or water, was too lean for a dog food company to consider slaughtering her for meat.
While she's still apprehensive about people, things are looking up for her at the Tyalgum property.
Ms Mercuri said it was hugely rewarding to see both the horses and children delight in the connections they forged through the Second Chance Equine Experience.
"It's unbelievable to watch,” she said.
"The parents are saying from week one to week six, it's an amazing transformation that their kids have gone through.
"There's no words to describe it. It's just really special and it's all from bonding with them on the ground,” she said.
The program, which she plans to continue in a more advanced version, is fully insured and the horses have all been vaccinated for Hendra virus.
Murwillumbah dad Martin King said his 14-year-old daughter Emily had received big benefits from being involved with the program.
But he said going along each week had been therapeutic for him, too, after the family lost their home in the March floods and faced the threat of homelessness for some time.
"It wasn't easy,” Mr King said. "We could have been on the streets. It was a miracle we actually got a home.”
While they had flood insurance, Mr King said the family was facing a long journey, and would eventually have to demolish their home.
The equine program, however, had brought something positive into their lives each week.
"It's been really wonderful for Emily and I've really seen her grow over those 10 sessions,” he said.
Ms Mercuri said she would sponsor the first child on the upcoming, more advanced program, but hoped the community could get on board to help more children build confidence and horsemanship skills through the program.
Find Second Chance Equine Experience on Facebook or contact Ms Mercuri on 0413552928.