They say that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Well, not according to Anne Theriault, who stumbled upon the Ontario Equine Education and Employment Program (OEEEP) via a Google search during a very dark period of her life. Despite at first being highly suspicious that a six-week program could really be free, she dove in head first – a move that proved to be pivotal in the best possible way.

After working for 16 years in the insurance industry, a deeply traumatic experience in 2021 involving a death in the family stirred up crippling childhood memories that saw Anne dealing with severe PTSD symptoms. She took time off work to get therapy, ultimately leaving that career. Feeling lost and rudderless in early 2023, she had a dream one night that she was mucking out stalls – despite not having a horse-related background. This prompted a trip to a horse farm, and then a Google search which unearthed OEEEP’s question “Have you ever dreamed of working with horses…?”

Despite having to learn the industry pretty much from scratch, Anne flourished. “The OEEEP course was designed beautifully for a non-horse person. The [course] book is amazing. It has everything, from grooming and nutrition to body language and herd dynamics. It truly is a wealth of information.”

A woman with curly hair standing by a stone wall.

Anne Theriault is now enjoying a thriving new career in the horse industry.

Anne did her placement at Sunrise Therapeutic Riding Centre in Puslinch, working as a stable assistant and also as their Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) co-facilitator from October ’23 through the end of April this year. “A couple of acquaintances volunteered there and when completing my EAL certification, I met someone who had also worked there before and everyone had great things to say!” said Anne of the reason she wanted to spend the hands-on portion of the course there. “So I suggested to my OEEEP representative that I would love to complete my placement there and they arranged for an interview.”

Her duties at Sunrise involved feeding the horses, giving meds, grooming and tacking up, and also assisting in lessons as a horse leader/sidewalker, as well as co-facilitating some EAL activities.

And the doors kept opening for the Fergus resident. “At the start of May I was presented with an amazing opportunity to become a facilitator of the HopeSprings Cancer Support Center’s Rein-Inspire Equine Wellness Program. The owner, Heather, has graciously provided the support (location and horses) for me to simultaneously start my own programs.”

Last year, Anne had the opportunity to assist in facilitating events for high-school students and witnessed the amazing effect horses have on kids. This year, she is holding a Kids PD Day Camp on June 7 in Bellwood promising a ‘unique horse-aided learning experience.’ “It makes my heart so happy to be able to bring this back to my community!” she said. Anne is also working on offering a women’s support group for those who have encountered trauma.

Anne says she would recommend the OEEEP course to anyone – horse-savvy or complete newbie – in a heartbeat. “The reason I would encourage anyone who is contemplating the ‘horse world’ to take this course, and especially as a new field, is because they do just that – they put you directly on the path. The best updated knowledge is provided and you are weekly guided through it with top professionals. Through OEEEP you get a sense of what it’s like to work with horses, and then they provide hands-on training with a placement option!

“It couldn’t have come at a better time in my life,” said Anne of the entire OEEEP experience. “It gave me a renewed sense of purpose and hope. And now my hope is to bring this to the attention of others, and help others heal as well.”

The next free OEEEP cohort for future employees begins June 10 with a June 4, 2024 registration deadline. Register HERE.

Employers can sign up to be matched with suitable employees and gain the benefits of the OEEEP program HERE.