Limerick’s Joe Slattery has been calling for more equine therapy facilities to be provided for disadvantaged areas in Limerick.
The addiction counsellor, project manager, TedX presenter, public speaker and CEO of JS Equine Assisted Therapies has been changing the lives of Limerick people through the power of equine therapy.
Joe recently discussed his business on the Limerick Treasures podcast and told listeners about his experience.
Equine therapy is a method of providing counselling through horses and his facility Joe himself works with the Equine Assisted Growth And Learning Association that has been around for over 21 years.
Joe’s life growing up in the Southill area of Limerick in the ’80s and ’90s led to his affinity for horses and the desire to help those who struggle with mental health.
“I found that area difficult to live in, simply because I’m a softie. But in that environment you couldn’t be that way, so I had to pretend I was someone I was not, and it didn’t suit me,” he says.
Joe ended up getting kicked out of school and said he felt like he would never achieve anything with his life, saying “I was quite a sad kid I suppose, but you just try to hide it.”
During this time, Joe found an escape in horses.
Not only did riding and doing activities with the horses provide entertainment for Joe and other youths in the area, but it also provided an escape from reality.
“My alone time with the horses is when I really got to be myself. I didn’t have to pretend I was someone I’m not, and it allowed me to be sensitive and vulnerable.”
Joe says his time with the horses gave him a space to release all the anger and anxieties he would keep to himself.
“This is this stuff that creates people who lash out in violent ways, because it’s built up like a volcano and when you don’t have somewhere to release it comes out in one way or another, so thankfully I had those horses,” he says.
During this period Joe also began to ‘self-medicate,’ with illegal substances.
He started using drugs at the age of 12 and continued through his teenage years, but was “one of the lucky ones” and was able to steer his life away from substances.
“I never got to the stage of withdrawal, but I think I was substant dependent. I used them to help me deal with an environment I didn’t want to be in. I sedated myself,” he says.
Joe believes that his outlet through horses is what changed his life, and is calling for equine association therapy facilities throughout not only Limerick, but disadvantaged areas across the country.
“I had the balance, I had the horses. I had things in my life that balanced out, like the ying and the yang, the good and the bad. Maybe because I had that outlet I didn’t struggle as bad.”
Often horses owned in disadvantaged areas within Limerick areas are repossessed by the Council. The argument for withdrawing the horses is based around animal welfare, and Joe agrees that there is a need for a high standard of animal Welfare.
However, by choosing to remove the beloved animals from young people who so desperately need them, instead of providing the education as to how to properly care for the animals, they could potentially be changing lives for the worst.
“No one seems to care what these horses mean for these young people. There’s a real bias that if you own a horse you’re a trouble maker,” he says.
“Taking them away will enhance the anti-social behaviour, it will enhance drug use, and that’s not okay. There has to be a discussion around animal welfare, absolutely, but also supporting the people that love these horses.”
Joe says that these young people are finding solace within the care and entertainment involved with the horses, and when these animals are taken away from them it creates angers.
“I don’t think it’s fair that they should lose out on the privileges and the emotional benefits that comes with owning these horses just because they are low in society.”
Providing facilities to provide therapy through horses could change the lives of children in regeneration areas, and this is what led Joe to the profession.
“I was able to bring my two loves together, helping young people and families heal, and then horses, it was a no-brainer for me,” he says.
“A lot of these kids are unreachable otherwise, but this creates and environment that brings them together.”
“This solution would not only create a safe and caring environment for young people, but it would also provide education for how to properly care for these horses and prioritise their welfare – a win-win situation,” he added.
You can listen to the full podcast episode here