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Life After Racing: The benefit of being CARM

Off the track Thoroughbreds have become very popular as equine therapy horses and with good reason, writes AMANDA MAC. 

Earlier this year we spoke to Rehab4Rehab founder Alisha Griffiths, who had combined her two passions of helping retired racehorses and supporting struggling children to create something very special.  

A successful and in-demand charity, Rehab4Rehab offers equine therapy to children, including psychology sessions, occupational therapy, and speech pathology support. The therapies are facilitated by a team of allied health professionals, including AHPRA-registered clinical, and child and developmental psychologists, all of whom have significant experience with horses.  

The Rehab4Rehab therapists work with a broad range of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, low self-confidence, autism, behavioural issues, trauma and PTSD. Typically, patients participate in 10 sessions to help them manage their emotions, anxiety and general wellbeing. 

But why stop there? Late last year Rehab4Rehab joined forces with the KIDS Foundation to create CARM (Child and Racehorse Movement), an organisation designed to raise funds and promote child and horse wellbeing, and to expand on the work of the KIDS Foundation and Rehab4Rehab. CARM’s profile has been championed by three high profile ambassadors: Australian jockey Michelle Payne OAM, the first female to win a Melbourne Cup; prominent media personality and journalist Jacqueline Felgate; and well-known 7 Network presenter Hamish Lachlan. 

Michelle Payne OAM is one of CARM’s high profile ambassadors.

After a soft launch in November 2022, CARM was officially launched to great acclaim at Flemington Racecourse on Australian Guineas Day in March this year. And Alisha, who is the Co-Founding Director of CARM, was delighted with the response: “While the horse racing community is phenomenally large and ever-growing, many are unaware of what happens to horses once they retire from the track. We’re excited to build this program and enhance recognition for the extraordinary power of animals and children in nurturing each other.” 

Alisha says that ex-racehorses seem to have a special aptitude for equine assisted therapy and believes that it’s their ability to mirror human emotions and maintain a calm state during interactions with the children that lies at the heart of this success. It has certainly been foundational in the growth of both CARM and Rehab4Rehab, and has resulted in some very positive win/wins. “By giving retired racehorses an opportunity to connect with people, they achieve a greater sense of purpose and belonging. Likewise, this relationship is rewarding for the children. It not only aids their mental wellbeing, but enhances their confidence, their ability to care, and their social skills,” she adds. 

Michelle Payne OAM, is one of the charity’s most enthusiastic supporters: “CARM changes kid’s lives,” she says, “at the same time helping retired racehorses transition from the racetrack to the community.”  

Around 30 horses are involved in Rehab4Rehab, which is based at Red Hill Equestrian Centre on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. The process involved in a racehorse transitioning into the community generally takes between six and eight months, and their training in equine therapy costs approximately $8,000. 

Participants in CARM corporate days enjoy bonding with the horses while they work on their personal and professional development.

And it’s not just children who benefit from interacting with horses. CARM also offers corporate days during which participants are introduced to equine assisted therapy while they work on personal and professional development in areas such as mindfulness, managing emotions, leadership, goal setting, and positive physical and mental health. Proceeds from CARM corporate days go directly to the KIDS Foundation and Rehab4Rehab.  

For more information, visit CARM, the KIDS Foundation, and Rehab4Rehab.