Penny with the horses. Image: The CHAOS Group.

Penny Tempest is a fully qualified GP and has taken a break from her practise to focus on running equine therapy sessions for the charity CHAOS Cornwall.

The aim of the sessions is to give people struggling with their mental health a chance to connect with the horses and focus on something positive.

Unlike a conventional riding lesson, most of the work is done with the person on the ground. They are taught basic skills such as applying a headcollar and brushing them. Penny rarely involves riding in the sessions to avoid a horse and rider hobby-like relationship, rather than a healing one. She says, “It’s a therapeutic relationship in the same way as one would have with a councillor.”

When she worked as a GP, Penny saw a lot of patients come to her with mental health problems and found it quite overwhelming as there were limited ways to help people – the most typical being Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or prescribing medication. Penny admitted she sees a lot more change happening infront of her when running equine therapy than when she was a GP.

“Some people I’m able to help far more standing in a field with horses than I can ever do with a piece of paper, a prescription and sticking them on a waiting list.”

With hollistic approaches such as equine therapy having such rewarding results after being tried and tested by a GP, there may be a chance that one day doctors will prescribe these kinds of treatments to patients to support their mental health.