Tragedy has a peculiar way of shaking us out of our comfort zones, forcing us to see ourselves and life in a totally new way. During the healing process, we often make discoveries that reshape our perspective on life in the most surprising ways. Just ask Sharon Morrissey who overcame many issues caused by a serious head injury through her connection with horses – and the outcome is mutually beneficial.
by Judy Fredriksen
After establishing her own recruitment business with a colleague in Queen Street, Brisbane, Sharon Morrissey was enjoying the usual spoils of the corporate world. As one of the top 400 privately owned businesses, the agency was highly successful and as a hobby, Sharon kept horses.
Then in the blink of an eye, Sharon’s world was turned upside down when she was involved in a car accident.
“I suffered an acquired brain injury, among other things. I spent four years in therapies and rehabilitation. The lesions on my brain after the accident caused my mid-line to shift. I’d fall over constantly, I couldn’t be left on my own – I’d go out and get lost. I couldn’t put horse feed in the bucket – I’d miss the bucket.”
It also impacted her ability to read, write and count, everyday functions that previously, she had been highly skilled in.
When her doctors told her ‘that’s as good as it’s going to get’, the rebellious side of her Irish background kicked in and she told herself: I don’t think so! Just get on with it!
Having grown up with an uncle and aunt who bred racehorses, Sharon always loved horses. At age 17 she rescued her first horse – Storm – from a riding school, much to the chagrin of her parents.
She agisted him out, and every day would ride him over the sand dunes and along the beach. He lived to the age of 32, dying with Sharon by his side.
Over the years, Sharon had become familiar with equine assisted therapy and, after the accident, decided to try it on herself to see if it worked.
Equine assisted therapy is a recognised treatment that promotes human physical and mental health simply by being with, and interacting with horses. It is used to help those with Autism, Asperger’s, depression, anxiety, stress and post-traumatic stress disorder and many other conditions.
This will not be news to those of you who are attached to your fur and feather babies, whether it’s one with a wagging tail, a comforting purr or cheerful chirp, you will understand the healing qualities of pets. So it’s unsurprising that Sharon went on to experience remarkable improvements through her involvement with horses.
In fact, her doctor ended up diagnosing her with ‘adjustment disorder’.
“It’s a real thing. Apparently I didn’t adjust to being disabled!” she proudly declares.
“It’s proven that horses help with cognitive skills, which is where it helped me,” says Sharon.
But Sharon isn’t the only one to benefit. Since her accident, she has been on a mission to save as many horses as possible from the knackeries and give them a second chance by using them for equine assisted therapy, though many are traumatised from abuse.
With some help from John Chatterton Affiliative Horsemanship, which encourages bonding as opposed to domination, Sharon is learning how to slowly win the trust of the abused horses.
“I’ve done some work with autistic children and special needs kids, and worked with kids who are in danger of becoming complete delinquents. It’s amazing to see how they interact with the horses and how the horses interact with them.”
Relying totally on her own cash reserves, Sharon has rehomed dozens of horses, but currently has a herd across different locations in South-East Queensland.
She monitors social media where she sees posts about horses being sold for pet food.
“The doggers and meatbuyers pick up a horse for $60, and they can sell it for meat value for $300–$400,” she explains. But Sharon has to fork out around $400–$500 to save the horse. “It’s all about money.”
Many of the horses she has saved were starving, malnourished, had been whipped, electrocuted, used in rodeos, chased by cars, or hobbled and left in a paddock without water.
“Some of them had collapsed, some I thought were foals but they were three-year olds. Most are terrified of humans. Some I still can’t touch.”
With the cost of hand-feeding the horses draining her own resources, Sharon recently bought acreage at Hunchy in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland.
Called ‘Storm’s Sanctuary’ in memory of Sharon’s first horse, the facility will become a wellness centre for equine assisted therapies and retreats with horses.
The grassy paddocks and natural water holes will help to reduce Sharon’s feed costs, though the horses still require ongoing attention for their teeth, hooves and other healthcare like worming.
Sharon finds it abhorrent that people treat horses as a disposable item.
“Horses are not disposable. We live in such a disposable world. Can’t ride that horse? Just get rid of it.
“Horses feel, they connect, they bond, they grieve. They are more than just something to ride and to dispose of. They can help with your mental and physical health.”
If you would like to help Sharon and Storm’s Sanctuary, donations of feed and volunteers to work with the horses (grooming, feeding) are appreciated. Contact Sharon via messenger on Storm’s Sanctuary facebook page.