“I love the energy of horses. They calm me very much... They communicate with me all the time through their body language."

Equine therapist Noreen Roche will host a retreat for 40 women this weekend. COLETTE SHERIDAN finds out about her work
“I love the energy of horses. They calm me very much... They communicate with me all the time through their body language."
Noreen O’Neill with her horses Lizzy and Isabel at Eponaretreats in Rathcormac, County Cork, where she runs equine therapy. Picture Dan Linehan

WHEN Noreen Roche’s 50-year-old sister died from cancer the day before Noreen’s 40th birthday, it was like a wake-up call. She felt she had to make major changes in her life or she was going to have the same fate as her sister.

That was nine years ago. Today, Noreen is an enthusiastic equine therapy coach and energy healer, based at Epona Retreat Centre in Rathcormac. She is hosting a retreat for 40 women at the centre on September 29 which will include Tai Chi, yoga, homeopathy, kinesiology, horse therapy and meditation, with the expertise of different practitioners.

Working closely with horses, the most popular animal used in animal therapy, is now second nature to Noreen. But it wasn’t always like that.

Originally from a farm in Bruff, Co Limerick, her brother, Gerry O’Neill, was very involved with horses and was a jockey in his 20s. Noreen learned how to ride but says she didn’t feel she had a particular affinity with horses.

“I actually had a mishap with one of the horses when I was 13. She ran away with me. Looking back, there was something about the horse. We connected but I didn’t know anything about horses. I hung onto her for dear life. Eventually, she stopped. I got off her and was fearful of horses after that.”

Martin, Oisín,Louie and Noreen with her horses Ruby, Lizzie and Isabel at Eponaretreats in Rathcormac where she runs equine therapy. Picture Dan Linehan
Martin, Oisín,Louie and Noreen with her horses Ruby, Lizzie and Isabel at Eponaretreats in Rathcormac where she runs equine therapy. Picture Dan Linehan

At 18, Noreen moved to London and spent ten years there, working in administration. In 1998, she returned to Ireland. Someone suggested that she do a Reiki course.

“I was open to it and it was obviously meant to be. It blew my mind.”

Noreen discovered that she could do energy healing.

“The Reiki course opened up the gifts I had that I didn’t know I had.”

On the cusp of a new phase in her life, Noreen started to look at herself and felt she needed to change.

“I was one of those people who said ‘yes’ to everything. I connected with people’s energies, good or bad. I picked up signals that I shouldn’t have. I would try to sort out people’s lives. It was very much controlling. I got hurt a lot and I was up and down.”

At this stage, Noreen and her husband, Martin, were living in Ballincollig. Her four- year-old son, Oisín became very ill. His lung collapsed. He had an allergy to clay.

“Intuitively, I knew it was time to move. The countryside was calling me. We moved and went down the alternative route. My kids never had to go to a doctor.”

Oisín, now aged 17, is in perfect health. His brother is Louie, aged 14.

Noreen says that when she went to view Epona with her husband, she knew she could do something special there.

“It was the first place we saw and we didn’t look at any other places. It was an old farm. We built a house on the land. We have eight acres.”

Noreen’s husband has also built stables and restored out-houses.

Involved in holistic work, Noreen was invited to work with animals and became “smitten with the animal world”.

The owner of a dying foal asked Noreen to come and see the animal as well as the mare.

“It took me four days, working with the owner and the mare, to bring the foal back to life. It made me realise that we can’t survive without love.”

Noreen says that directing love “to the mare who gave it to her foal and their owner” was what worked for the seriously sick animal.

“I learned that a horse will start healing when you start trusting.”

Despite her bad experience with a horse when she was a teenager, Noreen trusted the mare who, in turn, trusted her to touch the foal.

“That was the start of my work with horses. I did some work with thoroughbreds for a while and then did some equine consciousness work, looking at the energy (of horses) and communicating intuitively with them.”

Noreen has studied holistic healing, including animal Reiki teaching to an advanced level. She has done workshops with Hanne Stigaard, an internationally recognised “conscious rider facilitator” based in Denmark.

She has also created her own Signature Transformational Workshop, entitled ‘Courage to be Me’ facilitated by the Wish Tree Academy. She is a happiness coach, has trained in the art of Feng Shui and has done a mentorship entitled ‘Women who run with Horses’.

So, is Noreen a horse whisperer?

“I wouldn’t call myself that because I don’t whisper to horses. I listen.”

Noreen acquired her own horses, which she uses for her therapy sessions with clients. There is Ruby, who is eight years old, and her offspring, Lizzie who is four and Isabel who is two. Ruby, being a mother, is very much a grounding horse to which some of Noreen’s clients are drawn.

“Lizzie manifests what you’re manifesting and Isabel is my spiritual horse. I call her my magic horse.”

Noreen O’Neill with her horse Lizzy at Eponaretreats in Rathcormac where she runs equine therapy. Picture Dan Linehan
Noreen O’Neill with her horse Lizzy at Eponaretreats in Rathcormac where she runs equine therapy. Picture Dan Linehan

Horses have been used for therapeutic purposes since ancient times, according to ancient Greek literature. They give immediate feedback to the handler or rider’s actions. They are able to mirror the feelings of the handler or rider.

Noreen does a lot of meditation work with her clients as well as coaching and mentorship. She incorporates creative work such as painting and playing with marla.

“This helps people to relax and a lot of stuff comes up before we go out into the field with the horses. That’s when the healing starts. You open your heart to start loving yourself. That’s important. Sometimes, us women want to shut everything down. You have to be prepared to see the love. If you’re not in a relaxed state, the horse will jump around in fight or flight mode, mirroring your body.

“I love the energy of horses. They calm me very much and give me an awful lot of courage and strength. They communicate with me all the time through their body language. My clients can intuitively ask them a question.”

Noreen says that if the horse is standing southwards, that reflects on the success of the client. If the horse is in a south-west position, it is indicating forgiveness and relationships.

If someone comes to Noreen suffering from depression, she would never advocate giving up medication. She says that equine therapy can be used alongside more traditional treatment.

A client, looking for healing, would first of all be put into a relaxed state. Later, standing near the horse. Noreen explains: “Whatever emotions come up for her, the horse will start licking and chewing. The horse would guide me to the energy of the woman.

“The next thing, the horse would start yawning. It might stomp its foot or whoosh its tail to guide me to where the emotional blockage is. By stamping its left foot, that would be self-esteem. So I would start working on the woman’s self worth. We might go back to when she was a child and emotions will come up. The client could cry or yawn to release energy from her body.”

Noreen also works with men and couples. But she finds women on their own easier to relate to.

She has a considerable amount of expertise in the holistic healing domain. As a happiness coach, she says that being happy “is about being present in the now and appreciating what is around you”.

She adds: “I’ve learned to actually appreciate what I have now and to work on that. It has taken me nine years to share my gift. I’m still doing mentorships and meeting other women through Network Cork.”

Clearly Noreen is on a holistic journey. She has come a long way from being that frightened girl on a galloping horse.

www.eponaretreats.ie.

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