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FeatureLiving Well

You can talk to a horse, of course.

A new business, Absolute Minds, demonstrates the benefits of forming unique connections with big-hearted animals.

Oct 6, 2022


Words: Gippslandia

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“You look great! Has something changed?”

“Thank you. Well, yes… I’m seeing a new therapist.”

“Who?”

“Socks. I was seeing Astro, but he chews a little loud for me.”

“...”


The sheer possibility of such an interaction triggers a wry smile, but takes nothing away from the benefits non-ridden equine therapy provides. A session with registered, credentialed mental health nurse and equine-assisted therapy facilitator Nadine Robinson proves transformative in understanding the benefits her caring herd can provide.

“Trauma makes trust difficult. Animals are non-judgemental.”

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Nadine launched Absolute Minds on her family’s Yallourn North farm at the beginning of the 2020 financial year and the business has taken off (ordinarily, we’d take this opportunity to quip that the business has ‘bolted’, but, a focused founder, Nadine guides her new venture with a mindful grip of the reins). There is already a sizable waiting list of participants eager to benefit from time spent with Nadine’s colleagues: Socks, Blake, JJ, Astro and Navara, and dogs Mia and Buster, as well as a coop exploding with friendly chooks.

Unsurprisingly, stringent uniform requirements are adhered to by Socks and the crew, which is part of the appeal of Absolute Minds. Everyone is outside. Traditional clinical hierarchies are dismantled. You’re not locked in a closed, physical space, there’s less formality, positions of power are flattened, expectations are removed and there is a reduced need to talk. Connections between the participant and the animals can be built in silence.

As Nadine explains, “Trauma makes trust difficult. Animals are non-judgemental.”

Recent research into the benefits of companion animals and animal therapies points to their effectiveness in promoting positivity and reducing stress by boosting our oxytocin, the hormone that is released during social bonding. Studies into ‘koe knuffelen’ or ‘cow hugging’ in Dutch demonstrate that a cow’s (or other large mammals) warmer body temperature, slower heartbeat, softness and size make time spent in their hefty presence remarkably therapeutic.

You may not realise it initially, but caring for horses requires concentration, selflessness and teamwork – all beneficial attributes. Working with horses can also be partnered with cognitive behavioral therapy and experiential therapy.

The model of care Nadine offers doesn’t set stringent goals, “There is practice and roles are utilised for the participant to build skills that can be used to de-stress, practice mindfulness, self-compassion, distress tolerance building or understand emotions [that surface]. It is a strength-based approach. We want to work with what the participants are already good at, build upon their wonderful attributes.”

Absolute Minds is not limited to individuals with diagnosed mental health issues; individuals living with austism spectrum disorder, who are neurodiverse or who live with disabilities and desire improved self-awareness are all welcome.

Given her career working in the public hospital sector in mental health, in family services and welfare for the Department of Education, as well as with Monash and Federation Universities, Nadine is acutely aware of the need for self-care. With a lifelong passion for horses, she must also practice ‘herd-care’, as her animals are volunteers in the sessions and require downtime too.

Nadine acknowledges that given the current success of Absolute Minds, largely driven by word of mouth, you could expand the business. But Nadine wants to, “Do what I do, but do it beautifully. Give all my participants 100%. It’s the most important thing.”

While preparing to leave the yards of Nadine’s farm, she shares her ‘prescription’ for a good life: “Make sure you do something for you. Make time for you. Celebrate the time when you get to do the thing you love, that which gives you joy”.

Closing the gate and waving goodbye to a rather content-looking Astro, now all freshly brushed and fed, it’s hard not to imagine how much better our region would feel if more of us stopped flogging dead ideas and rode alongside businesses we held a deep passion for, similar to Nadine. Every day we’d be champing at the bit and raging to go as well.

To learn more about how Absolute Minds could benefit you, or someone close to you, please visit: absoluteminds.com.au.

Gippslandia - Issue No. 24

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