I DON'T think I need to introduce Ellen Whitfield to most readers of this column – she’s well-known and well-liked on the Cumbrian equestrian scene, writes Farmer Columnist Gilly Fraser.

She’s been around ponies and horses most of her life and even as a toddler spent happy hours sitting on the arm of the sofa, pretending it was a fiery steed.

It’s perhaps not so well known that Ellen is a fully qualified Therapeutic Counsellor, with her own business Garnet Counselling which she set up in 2016. Earlier this year she also became an Equine Facilitated Learning Practitioner after achieving an accredited diploma.

We’ll get on to that in a moment. But first let’s find out a little bit more about her life with horses.

So, there was the 13.2 flea-bitten grey Connemara called Josie who was, in Ellen’s words ‘a true character, who at the start tested me in every way possible,’ but the pair soon became best friends, happily hacking out for miles and having countless adventures.

Then came a four-year-old 15.2 dark bay mare named Katie Daley by her Dad after a favourite song. ‘Katie was a great all-rounder and could turn her hoof to anything,’ Ellen says. ‘She never let me down and had the heart of a lion.’

But in 2005 Ellen got her foot trapped in the stirrup in a show jumping accident that could have ended her riding career forever.

‘It was a huge wakeup call and I found myself re-evaluating everything. I had to be knocked out twice to get my foot straight enough to x-ray, then I ended up in resus. They saved my foot, but after numerous operations my ankle is now made up of metal, arthritic bone and scar tissue. I’ve had to learn to walk again several times.’

While she was recovering, Ellen entrusted Katie Daley to the best possible hands in the form of great friend and ace showjumper Richard Nichol. The pair competed with great success in BSJA competitions round the country.

After Katie died, Ellen decided she probably wouldn’t get another horse. Friends thought differently. Sue Chappelhow-Lacey found one she reckoned would suit Ellen perfectly.

‘I used to ride the Chappelhow horses and Sue told the owners she felt sure I was the right person for their boy.’ Sue was right. Bertie arrived in Easter 2017 and Ellen says he has a home for life.

‘Together we have done a bit of showing and dressage and we enjoy hacking. We have also had a few days out with hounds. Bertie is a big softie and always getting into trouble. He shouts back over his stable door every morning and has only once not come to call to come in at night.’

Given the importance of horses in her own life, it’s not surprising that Ellen decided to incorporate them into her counselling work.

‘People come for counselling for many different reasons. The main thing is that it is a safe space for them to explore thoughts and feelings without judgment. Horses have an innate ability to mirror the thoughts and behaviours of others. They can read body language and respond instantly. This encourages clients to be in the moment and self-aware.

‘Just being around equines can generate a sense of psychological well-being. Many clients like to feel needed by the horse and enjoy carrying out care tasks such as grooming and feeding. Sometimes I will work with a client by simply talking while in the horse’s company or while grooming.

‘If someone enters the horse’s space with a negative attitude, the chances are the horse will not interact. Enter calmly and openly and the horse will be positive.’

Equine facilitated therapy is used to treat ADHD, autism, depression, anxiety and PTSD as well as major life changes such as grief, divorce and trauma.

Ellen is a member of the National counselling society and the British Association of counsellors and Psychotherapists and adheres to the BACP code of ethics. She also works with outreach Cumbria and the LGBTQ community.

If you’d like to know more, go to her website www.garnetcounselling.co.uk, send her an email on ellen@garnetcounselling.co.uk or give her a call on 07825 322282. You might get to meet Bertie too!