Humans and equines can share strong bond
EVER since she was a child, Liz Jennings has had a bond with horses but it took time for her to fully understand the connection between horses and humans.
That meant getting to understand both better.
The proprietor of Redgum Walers, Elizabeth Jennings has been breeding, training and competing Waler performance horses since 1989 and has become a qualified facilitator with Australian Equine Facilitated Learning (AEFL).
Cross-bred from the first horses that arrived in Australia, the Waler is a jack-of-all-trades that can cope with anything.
Used in the Boer War, WWI and WWII, they earned a reputation as a trusting and dedicated mount that formed strong connections with the Australian soldiers who rode them.
After moving to the Thagoona property in 2003, Liz has in recent years worked to establish her Equine Facilitated Learning programs, which now include two for returned soldiers.
"I grew up with horses. I got my first horse when I was five or six and as a very shy child he gave me a voice to speak," Liz said.
"My parents realised when I was on them I'd chat, chat, chat, whereas take them away and I'd go back to being shy.
"So I've always had a very strong connection with horses and have gone through a lot of competition and training and learning a lot about them and I'd always found that I tended to understand people better through horses and their behaviour.
"They're a reflection of you so just as much as you're teaching them, they're teaching you.
"It's a huge thing to recognise that the horse you're partnered with is anxious and upset and uptight and what you may be doing to influence that.
"Very often it can be that you're anxious and stressed and upset. They are a reflection of that and you can start to increase your level of self-awareness and put in place tools you may have learnt in traditional therapy to calm yourself down or do whatever may be necessary."
Her property is unpretentious and tranquil, the perfect setting.
"I've been on this property for 12 years mainly breeding and training and competition," she said.
"A couple of years ago I was approached by people working with child safety who were looking for a property near Ipswich that could facilitate children and work with them as well.
"Although I'd kept my ear to the ground on this type of working with horses I hadn't thought it was something I could do. But I always had a strong admiration for people who did."
She trained with AEFL then started working with people and horses.
"It's mainly been with foster children but my personal interest is more towards the veterans," she said.
"I think that's because of the link between the horses and their history. The Walers are still great companion animals.
"The reason they did what they did in the war and went through all the hardships is because they trusted their mount, their soldier.
"They'd do anything for them and I think Geoff's found that connection with Gus.
"Geoff's my regular but so far it's been working indirectly through QMI (Queensland Mounted Infantry) and Mates4Mates.
"Geoff often helps me with a lot of bits and pieces and I think I've learnt just as much from Geoff as he's learnt from me."
Being around horses you have to live in the moment and it engages your mind and your body because you can't be complacent.
"Especially with riding, you have to concentrate on what you're doing so much that, for that period of time, you can become extremely happy or relaxed and you come away saying, 'Wait a minute, what was it I was worried about before'," she said. "For that period of time, it didn't matter so it gives you a glimpse that you can live in the moment, your quality of life can improve.
"Horses are individuals. Just as people have different characteristics and personalities.
"So you need to acknowledge what they bring to the partnership. Not every horse clicks with every person."