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Ontario Equine Education and Employment Program, Turning Darkness to Light

Posted in Equestrian News, Home Page articles, horse-racing

Ontario Equine Education and Employment Program, Turning Darkness to Light

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Have you ever dreamed of working with horses?


That was the opening question we asked potential applicants when the Ontario Harness Horse Association OHHA) launched the Ontario Equine Education and Employment Program (OEEEP) two years ago.

That simple introduction turned prophetic for OEEEP graduate Anne Theriault. 

At the time, Theriault was at a crossroads in her life. 

On the surface things appeared as they should. 

She had forged a blossoming career in the insurance industry as a successful account executive. Her personal life appeared stable and happy; nothing seemed out of the ordinary. 

But inside, Theriault was fighting the demons of childhood sexual abuse and the paralyzing anxiety associated with unresolved trauma. 

Anne thought that she had dealt with years of childhood victimization.  She had ventured out on her own from Sudbury, established a promising career and settled in with a kind, supportive and understanding life partner. Like most of us, she was coping and making her way through life.

But PTSD has a way of sneaking up on you and exploding from within. Most times, there is no warning or even a subtle hint that life is about to change in a way never contemplated. No signs, until the paralyzing anxiety attacks make the world increasingly smaller and threatening. 

Human beings have the innate ability to anticipate the future. Based on experience and possibility, our minds tell us what may happen and that’s a good thing, except when the mind becomes obsessed with negativity and the world turns into a very scary place. 

Anxiety is an extremely difficult mental health issue to treat. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and prescription medication, separate or jointly, is the usual course of treatment. Millions of people often suffer in silence for years before seeking help. Sadly, some never recover from the depths of despair and hopelessness. 

Unlike a broken limb or a wound, mental health isn’t visible to the naked eye. It’s not well understood and is exacerbated by people’s lack of compassion and empathy. Anxiety disorders can lead to extreme darkness and social isolation. It can happen to anyone. Each of us may be just one unknown trigger away from its grips.\

For Anne Theriault, that trigger was the brutal murder of her sister-in law.  

Theriault is beyond transparent when describing her experience. She can recall every small detail as though it were happening in real time. She verbally painted a picture, disturbing beyond description. That horrific scene lives within her mind and is with her every day. It’s incredibly gruesome. For our purposes, the account will be condensed.

Anne’s sister-in-law had fallen into the grips of human trafficking. Seeking affection, excitement but mostly love and approval, this young woman had joined in with the wrong crowd. Instead of love and acceptance, she was abused and beaten. When she finally tried to escape and move on with her life she was brutally murdered by her captors. 

Suddenly, a flood of childhood memories stormed Anne Theriault’s mind. She was unable to cope or function. Work was out of the question. Just getting through a day was a monumental challenge. Getting out of bed was a major accomplishment. 
Then it happened. The dream.

Theriault recalls the experience vividly, almost poetically. Struggling to sleep, longing for peace, refuge, a temporary escape from the demons tormenting her soul, she had a very vivid and life-altering dream. The expression on her face lit the room as she recalled that experience.

“I was in a barn. I’m not sure what barn because I had never been in one before. I could see, hear, taste, feel, smell and recall every aspect of the dream. The strange thing is that I had never been around horses. But it was so real. My senses were never so alive. It was like my mind was calling me to my proper place.”

The next morning, Theriault literally bursting with newfound energy and enthusiasm, fired up her computer and Googled “how to work with horses.” Up popped OEEEP. 

She registered for the programme, enrolled in the on-line training and was assigned her experiential placement. The rest, as they say, is history. 

]She quickly arranged to share- board a saddle horse and fastidiously learned every step of horse stewardship, voraciously reading, consuming and embracing everything she could about equine care, physiology and psychology.

Today, Anne Theriault is a proud graduate of OEEEP. She has landed employment as a therapeutic riding instructor. She has her heart set on an exciting future. Her goal is to establish a programme connecting horses to human mental health. Her ultimate objective is to run a program linking victims of human trafficking to equine therapy. 

Anne Theriault had a dream. In her words that dream saved her life. Horses saved her life. And now she is determined to do the same for others. 

Anne’s infectious enthusiasm is inextricably linked to her renewed zest for life. She wants to bring that optimism to others who struggle daily in their own deep, dark place. Those who suffer in silence. She wants to be their voice and let them know that a better, more complete life is possible. 

Anne Theriault will positively change the world for people who have yet to encounter her grace and courage. She already has. When she tells her story her audience is mesmerized in support and solidarity. She is a natural communicator. 

OEEEP, OHHA and our partners in government are privileged to support Anne Theriault on every step of her beautiful journey, Day by day. One step at a time. From despair to hope, darkness to light, a beautiful equine companion faithfully by her side. The dream has become reality.  


Photo Credit: Lisa Bilinski




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