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Disability reignites passion

by Emily Smith

Julie’s love of horses began in the 1960s growing up on acreage in Sydney, but it’s only since she acquired a disability in her 50s that she’s been able to reignite her passion for them.

“Horses saved me when I was younger and now they’re saving me again,” says Julie, who has lived with scleroderma for nearly 15 years. (People with scleroderma produce too much collagen, which makes their connective tissue, including skin, hard and tight.)

“These days I’m less concerned about what’s going to happen in the future and I’m living for today and feeling happy in myself.”

Julie said in her early 50s her health started deteriorating, with doctors assuming her symptoms were related to menopause.

“I was tired all the time and because some of my other symptoms mimicked multiple sclerosis, doctors thought I might have that,” Julie said.

“It was a frustrating and scary time, especially because I didn’t know what was wrong, but I knew something was.”

It took years for doctors to accurately diagnose Julie with scleroderma, a rare long-term condition that affects the connective tissue of the body.

Not long after her diagnosis, the Sunshine Coast resident became seriously ill and was hospitalised for six months. Following her discharge, she required the use of a wheelchair for 18 months.

“This was a very hard time because I had to relearn how to do everything, including how to walk,” Julie said.

Julie, a former teacher who also worked in the special education department, said she managed to get her health back on track with a combination of a good diet, nutrition and keeping active and getting the right support.

It wasn’t until years later in 2017 that Julie heard about the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), and now has a variety of NDIS-funded supports which helped her regain some independence.

“Without my NDIS-funded support workers I would not be able to contribute to my household or to attend equine therapy. I also have a small budget for equipment that I require, such as a wheelie walker and medical seating.”

Julie uses her own money to pay for equine therapy, but the NDIS does fund some assistive equipment to make horse riding a possibility for her. This includes a cushion and special reins for her to hold on to the horse.

“I'm so grateful to NDIS for helping me, because they provide the support for me to go out there and enjoy the horses, but I pay for my lessons and my riding equipment. My dream is actually to get my own horse, but they’re not cheap,” she said.

“Equine therapy has not only been great for me physically, but mentally and socially.”

Julie now wants to help others who live with disability to discover the therapeutic benefits of spending time with horses, and next on her list is writing a course and developing guidelines for equine therapy.

“My mindset and outlook on life is much more positive. I now have to think in a different way and I have to live in a different way.”

Her advice for those living with a disability is to not to delay speaking with their doctor or allied health professional about the application process.

“And don’t forget to value yourself, and importantly, don’t let others devalue you just because you live with a disability.”

You can contact Carers Queensland on 1300 999 636, or,



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