Fires inspire friendship

Duo collaborate on equine business dream

Life & Style
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A chance meeting during the Cudlee Creek fires has since formed into a successful equine business partnership called Manes of Change.

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A MAD dash to save horses during the Cudlee Creek fire a year ago brought polar opposites Jo Harmer and Bec Jeyaseelan together.

But the chance meeting has since formed into a successful equine business partnership called Manes of Change.

Jo said the day they met was one of the most horrific, but it helped to get a dream she has had for the past 15 years in motion.

"That morning (December 20, 2019) I went to feed my horses at Paracombe and I had an awful feeling something bad was going to happen," she said.

"As I was driving back down to Tea Tree Gully, the convoy of fire trucks was coming up the hill.

"I didn't have a float at the time, having recently moved back from Qld, so I was lucky to see a post from Bec (who lived at Athlestone) on Facebook, who had just evacuated all of her own horses.

"I contacted her and asked where her horses were and she said that she was on her way to get my horses out for me."

Jo said it was such a hectic time getting the horses set-up at Golden Grove that it was only a few days later, when helping another person evacuate their horses, that they finally had some time to chat.

"We both had backgrounds in horsemanship and support work, and had similar ideas about how the two should work together," she said.

"I had also been doing some healing work, but just with friends and friends of friends. But for years I have had a vision of running a business in which horses changed people's lives the way they have in mine."

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After chatting with Bec, and learning of her background in education, support work and horsemanship, Jo said her dream of Manes of Change was realised.

Their sessions aim to build a positive mindset based on learning basic horsemanship skills.

Jo said they cater for youth at-risk, those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, on the spectrum or dealing with trauma.

"We know from experience that our horses can connect with even the most withdrawn person," she said.

"We've seen many blossoming relationships that have instilled a rising sense of self-confidence.

"Families and carers have reported remarkable turnarounds in attitude and self-esteem.

"Being around our horses can help enhance behavioural and emotional support already provided."

While Jo trained in equine assisted therapy, Jo and Bec say the sessions are not clinical.

"We don't really do psychotherapy here, it's more about support work and mindset horsemanship," she said.

"People want to come here and live in the moment with the horse, not talk about feelings so much.

"We teach kids to use their energy to get the horses to do things, helping them focus and regulate - it's pretty powerful."

Horses are our passion, so it has been great to create something that can be life-changing. - JO HARMER

Jo said the sessions also gave parents a time-out in a nature setting.

"But the parents can also get involved with the horses - it's up to them which respite they choose," she said.

Jo said about 100 people have been through the program, with many now return clients.

The program's popularity has resulted in a staff expansion through another friendship formed during the fires. Jo and Bec were evacuating Deb Milne's horses at Woodside on December 23, when Deb had a medical episode.

"We had to give her CPR for 40 minutes before the ambulance arrived," Jo said.

But she made a full recovery and now runs Manes of Change sessions at Woodside and Echunga.

The business has also enlisted a mobile horsemanship consultant, Jo Marshall, in addition to Maddy Thompson, who is a new riding/mentor coach.

Manes of Change also plans to bring on a counsellor this year to complement the services they provide.

"Horses are our passion, so it has been great to create something that can be life-changing," Jo said.

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