Horse ‘saved my life’ after mental health struggle – BBC News

  • By Ruth Bradley
  • BBC News, Somerset

5 hours ago

Screenshot, Shelby Lunt, 25, met Maverick after several years as a patient in psychiatric wards.

Shelby Lunt, 25, had spent most of her adult life being treated in psychiatric wards. But it was meeting a horse named Maverick that, she says, transformed her future.

“I can rant all my problems to a horse and he doesn’t respond, he doesn’t give an opinion, he just listens to me,” Lunt said.

From the age of 16, Ms Lunt spent almost 10 years as a patient in psychiatric wards and secure units, being treated for complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and borderline personality disorder.

“I was pretty sick, I self-harmed a lot, I ran away a lot and I drank everything,” she said.

But while at Willow Ward in Bridgwater, Somerset, a support worker helped her rediscover her childhood passion for horses.

Screenshot, Ms Lunt said that, in addition to Maverick, she also established a bond with the riding school’s owner, Pat Fallance.

She began regularly visiting a riding school near Taunton and met Maverick there, who eventually helped her see a future outside the hospital.

Every time he went horseback riding, he said he had something to look forward to, something he hadn’t had in many years.

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“If I had a bad day on a Monday, say, I’d say, ‘I’m going to ride Maverick in two days, so I’m not going to mess it up,'” he said.

Maverick is not an easy horse to ride, but it is his “sometimes bad mood” that Ms Lunt said she loves about him.

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The affection between the couple is palpable, and their ears perk up happily when Mrs. Lunt approaches.

“He would often come here and be in a bad mood or struggling, then after a couple of hours he would be fine,” Mrs Lunt said.

“To be honest, it kind of saved my life. It’s what I want to do with my life now.”

Screenshot, Pat Fallance runs Horse Chestnuts Riding School and used to work as a psychiatric nurse.

Two months ago, Lunt moved into her own home and now lives 10 minutes from her parents, the closest they’ve been since she was 16.

On his first visit to the stables since leaving hospital, the excitement was evident from riding school owner Pat Fallance.

He stared proudly at a door as Mrs. Lunt and Maverick trotted across the yard.

“He’s making me work for it,” Ms. Lunt said as Maverick was reluctant to pick up the pace of a walk.

Ms Fallance commented that it had been “a pleasure to see Ms Lunt’s progress”.

“We saw the journey from the little girl who looked at the ground and didn’t do much, to the confident woman we have today,” Ms. Fallance said.

Screenshot, Ms Lunt’s support worker said Shelby was “in her element” with the horses.

A member of the stables staff had even baked a heart-shaped cake to mark the occasion, which was shared in the tack room after Mrs Lunt’s ride.

Enjoying a slice of cake was Melissa Darling, a support worker at the shared house Lunt moved into two months ago, in Devon.

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Describing Ms Lunt as a “very kind and patient girl”, Ms Darling explained that she had never seen her interact with horses before.

“It’s nice to see her come back here, she knows what she’s doing. [with the horses]…and he seems in his element,” he said.

Screenshot, Sarah Cox’s team helps people who have spent a lot of time in mental health hospitals find connections in their local community.

Ms Lunt’s experience was made possible by Open Mental Health, which runs community rehabilitation services in Somerset.

Service Manager Sarah Cox leads a team working with people with complex mental health needs, helping them to make connections alongside their support workers and hospital staff.

It was this team that discovered that Ms. Lunt had been riding since she was four years old, and thus introduced her to the riding school and Maverick.

Cox said discovering a passion can be crucial for mental health patients who have spent a lot of time in the hospital.

“Finding that, getting back into the community, helps you see a life beyond what it’s been before,” he said.

“I think that’s very important: to be able to glimpse a difference and a change and something so transformative.”

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