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Nelly breeds and trains horses, as well as hosting training clinics. One of her biggest passions is trick training. Her horses can bow, shake hands, lay down and sit like a dog on command, to name just a few.
Living near the rural town of Deloraine in Australia’s little island state, Tasmania, Nelly has been living with multiple sclerosis (MS) since 1999. Up until that point, she was modelling, milking cows, driving heavy machinery at the tip, riding and training horses.
Nelly’s first introduction to horses came when she was just three years old.
“My passion has always been inspired by ‘The Man From Snowy River’ – that type of riding – cattle mustering and that sort of thing,” she said.
“I used to go mustering cattle in Tasmania’s high country. It’s amazing up there – the air is really crisp and cold. We would ride in snow, rain, and fog so thick, you couldn’t see the horse in front of you. For me it’s magical country. The weather can change at the drop of a hat and the areas we went are only accessible on horseback.”
But the diagnosis changed all that.
“I probably had MS for two years before I was actually diagnosed. The symptoms were there – I was off-balance and losing a bit of eyesight sometimes.”
In the beginning, Nelly was still able to walk, and had to inject herself every second day with her medicine. She tended to relapse at least once a year, and each time, she lost about 10 per cent of her mobility, until, eventually, she ended up in a wheelchair.
“I’ve been in the wheelchair eight years now, and can’t ride anymore. I get really severe muscle spasms through my legs, and, because of that, I gave them names – Bob and Bruce. I have young people come and train with me and it can be intimidating for them, so that helps the kids feel more comfortable – it’s just Bob and Bruce misbehaving.”
When she had to start relying on a wheelchair, it became even harder, and she suffered from depression for about four years.
“Physically, I couldn’t do the things the way I used to, but the horses pulled me through that dark period."
“At first, I felt I wasn’t doing right by them, so I tried to sell everything. When I wasn’t able to sell, that was really my saving grace, because no matter how bad I felt, I had to get up and take care of them. It gave me a reason to get up in the morning".
“That’s how I found out there were still ways of doing things. What I had to learn was to modify. I had to work out a whole new way to train my horses."
“I’ve always had a big, strong dose of stubborn, and I thought there had to be a way. I’ve learned to read horses better since being in the wheelchair and I’ve worked out how to do it around my limitations and from the wheelchair instead of on their backs”.
“Horses to me are something that I can rely on, because they don’t question me. They challenge me, absolutely. They know when I’m upset – they come and stand around me and give me moral support.
“They are magical and so tuned into us and how we’re feeling. Until you’ve had that experience with a horse, you probably can never understand it. Once you have been involved in that magical experience, it’s very hard to go back.”
Text by Carly Dolan
Images by Geoff Robson