When your dad’s changing lives at a spectacularly unsustainable pace


My dad with my daughter and her pony Barney

Somewhere, a prisoner sits in his cell and pens the words;

“Horses for Hope has helped me believe in myself enough that I think I can get a job, I am worthy, I’m not the scum of the earth, and I can be in society.”

A 19-year-old Black Saturday bushfire victim poised over her computer writes:

“After Black Saturday, I lost myself. It was like my whole personality had changed, not even my friends could understand what had happened to me. I was a very angry person after the fires and couldn’t control myself or my emotions. I would have like mental breakdowns and just get so angry at literally nothing, and would just start screaming and crying and literally not being able to control what I was doing, because I was so angry. The Horses for Hope team have helped me discover myself again, and for that I am forever grateful. They were my lifeline.”

A youth in foster care suffering ADHD tells his carers:

“I know it’s couselling, but it just doesn’t feel like it”.

These people all have a different story, but they also have something in common – they all share the same gratitude that Horses for Hope came into their lives.

What is this Horses for Hope I hear you ask?

It’s tricky to explain, technically it is an alternate counseling program that uses Equine Assisted Narrative Therapy Practices to help clients to use what they learn about themselves through working with horses, to re-author the negative stories that have come to dominate their lives (often through experiencing trauma).

That is the complicated version, the simple one is this – Horses for Hope is mind-blowing. Horses for Hope is unique. Horses for Hope is not for profit. Horses for Hope is my dad.

My dad – one of two of the last true gentlemen I know. The other is his dad, my pop. Both salt of the earth, Mallee gents.

Dad left Ouyen High when he was 14 to work on the family farm. Not long after marrying mum (daughter of a pioneer Mallee farmer herself), I arrived, and against their better judgment packed up and headed for the big smoke.

Dad then spent four years attaining his Bachelor of Welfare, all the whilst fostering some 23 street kids (not all at the same time!). Some of these kids now have children of their own who call my parents Mama and Pappy, just as my kids do.
But you can take the boy out of the farm – not the farm out of the boy.

It wasn’t long before our family was re-established on a small property in Northern Victoria. Over the next twenty years Dad made a discovery – he found when he combined his two passions of horses and counseling, the results could be astonishing. So astonishing in fact, that a waiting list of people looking for an alternate to shrink visits and popping pills, began to grow.

Sounds like the start of a great story doesn’t it? However, as with anything new and alternate, equine therapy does not attract government funding. None. Zip. Zero.

To compound the issue, people who need to use the program most, usually don’t have the money. This is why Dad is dogged about making Horses for Hope available to the most needy. He works 13-hour days and insists on taking the program where he feels it will offer most value (currently Kinglake).

But there is a catch – the man is no spring chicken, and the pace he is setting is spectacularly unsustainable.

Horses for Hope is sexy to the media. It has been featured on The 7PM Project and ABC Compass, amongst others. It’s a feel good story. However, media attention to date has done little to improve the chances of continuing the program into the future. Rather, each time the story airs, the organisation is inundated by people from all over the country reaching out to receive help.

And the wait list gets longer – and longer.

Dad cares naught for the almighty dollar. He and mum live in a modest, but homely, weatherboard 50’s farm house (that still has sexy brown lino). He has no interest in material possessions – you might even call him a minimalist (oh so trendy now, not so trendy when I was a kid).

The word frugal springs to mind. The toilet at their place has a precarious rock to the right, so when you sit down you never quite know how things are going to end. When you give Dad stick about it, his standard response is, “She’s good for another year.”
Dad might not need the almighty dollar, but his organisation sure does.

Horses for Hope is existing right now on a whim and a prayer by an anonymous benefactor. The story of how this came about is a ripper…

Prior to any donation, the benefactor’s son was one of the lucky ones – he made it off the waiting list and into the program. The family, like most others, expressed much gratitude for the help their child received. Their gratitude, however, was about to save the program from closing.

Unbeknown to Horses For Hope, this family had recently won the lottery. They were so inspired by the help their child received they decided to donate the annual interest earnings from their winnings to keep the doors open.

The pure generosity of this gesture still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. However, as exciting as this is, the annual donation is only enough to cover a wage for Dad and his right hand man (ahem, she is actually a woman) and some overheads. In other words, Horses for Hope is still not in a position to help many of the people who need it most.

The resources simply don’t exist.

I remember sitting in the Tempy Church as a little girl, all dressed up in my Sunday finest. I would watch with awe while my pop, the local Uniting Church Minister, delivered his simple messages;

Treat others like you want to be treated.
Be kind.
Be caring.

I know exactly where my dad’s drive to help others comes from. Dad may be a selfless, generous human being because he chooses to live his life by these values – but that is not getting Horses for Hope to the masses.

The way I see it, Horses for Hope needs to establish itself as a business that has the ability to sustain itself. No handouts. No government grants. Otherwise, this incredible program will die, right about the same time my dad runs himself into the ground.
Why am I bothering with my long-winded story?

My dad’s program needs to learn how to manage money and function as a self-sustaining business. Maybe someone will read this who can point us in the right direction? A contact. Tip. Suggestion. Anything.

My pop is now sadly confined to the four walls of the Ouyen Hospital geri wing – his body is giving up on him. Somehow, he still chooses to see the upside of life;
“Possum,” he says to me. “What your dad does for those people is magic. Just magic.”
I know what he means.

I can see Dad is changing lives.

I just wish he’d fix the freakin’ toilet.

I am not a traditionally religious person myself – but right now we could do with one of Pop’s prayers to keep Horses for Hope alive.

You can check out more about Horses for Hope at http://www.horsesforhope.org.au

Blend it your way,
Leese x

Contact me at lisabooth27@bigpond.com or come on over to Booken Blend on Facebook

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