Living Leeside: Meet the German bringing calm and joy through horses

Living Leeside: Meet the German bringing calm and joy through horses
Sandra Schmid with her husband Tim Rowe and two of their horses Hairy Henry and Flora.

YOUTUBER, social worker, and animal enthusiast Sandra Schmid moved to Bantry 22 years ago after meeting her husband in West Cork while working on a farm in exchange for bed and board at the age of 20.

Originally from a large city in Germany, Sandra said she always wanted to live in a house in the country.

She has a huge passion for horses since learning to ride at the age of nine at a city-based riding school in Germany.

Although Sandra met her husband Tim in 1995, Sandra went back to Germany to start and complete her college studies before returning in 1998 as a qualified social worker.

For a number of years, Sandra worked for the Southern Health Board, HSE and Tusla, before leaving to focus on her passions.

“I always had an interest in the education side of social care and social work, rather than monitoring and preventing, I preferred mentoring and teaching,” she said.

“I have a huge passion for horses, I always wanted to do something more with that. I did a therapeutic riding coaching course in Wicklow in 2012.

“It was a fairly new concept then, it is slightly different to riding for the disabled, it nurtures the relationships between rider and animal, the caring and relaxation side.”

In 2014, Sandra packed in her permanent post as a social worker.

“I left my social work job, I couldn’t do it any longer, there was a huge workload and I could never do it well enough, I’m a bit of a perfectionist that way,” she said.

“I got more and more work and I couldn’t even see the families I was working with.”

After that, Sandra worked with therapeutic horse-riding for adults and children with learning difficulties and registered as a teacher to offer home tutoring as well.

“I work with a lot of children who would be on the autism spectrum.

“I use animals a lot to ground and relax them and do something educational with them,” she explained.

Sandra has four horses and her first, Hairy Henry, which her centre is named after, arrived in early 2000s.

“They all work with me with children and adults with additional needs,” she said.

“Henry and his wife Winnie have one foal, Flora, and Sandra also has a pony called Daisy to work with smaller clients.

“She is just the right size for little people.”

Sandra uses an array of animals to work with her clients, including sheep, hens, rabbit and dogs.

“Animals are more straightforward. It is easier in a way to read them for people challenged by human communication.

“Having worked with a lot of people on the autism spectrum, I just think, gosh it must be all gobbledygook to them, we talk too fast, we use different words for the same thing, it must be so hard, a horse is a horse, ears back mean they are cross, they swish their tail for flies, neighs to call friends, it is black and white.

“Straight forward, no hidden meaning.”

The social worker said her horses have a relaxing effect on people.

“These are therapy animals, they are very sociable, calm, steady and not affected by someone being anxious,” she said. 

“My horses are specially selected. They know their job, know what they are supposed to do.

“They bring joy and calm to people.”

The horseriding enthusiast is also involved in West Cork Trec, a fairly new sport that involves orienteering by horseback.

“It is a fairly new sport, it originated in France to find a way to train tourism riding coaches. They invented this competition thing around what someone needs to take a group out cross country.

“It involves orienteering on horseback and agility on horseback. There are competitions in west Cork, given a map, and you have so many hours to ride from A to B in so many hours.

“It’s a cool sport. It gets you out into the hills and across the fields.”

Sandra and her husband Tim also enjoy a spot of fishing and regularly head out on their small rowing boat in Bantry bay to catch mackerel for the dinner.

“It is a beautiful thing to do.”

Her husband Tim used to be a commercial beekeeper but due to the West Cork climate gave up this profession and now spends his days inventing different things and creating content on their YouTube channel ‘Wayoutwest Blowinblog.’

“Our YouTube channel is part of our income,” Sandra explained.

Discussing the coronavirus pandemic, the self-employed social worker and home tutor said it has been difficult, with her mother in Germany contracting the illness at 85 years of age and her business struggling with large overheads.

“It was a bit of a nightmare, but we made it through. I have a brother in the US as well so neither of us were able to visit her.”

In terms of the Hairy Henry therapeutic riding centre, Sandra said it has been tough.

“The centre has big overheads and we had no income whatsoever,” she said,

“We couldn’t get the Covid payment, they gave us something in the end, but we were selling vouchers for the centre and horse manure to farmers.

“Some of our rabbits and guinea pigs had babies and we sold some to a pet shop.

“It was a bit desperate for a while, a bit grim when no one knew what was happening and nothing coming in.”

On top of that, Sandra said they had some sick animals to look after during the lockdown.

The entrepreneur said it was a stressful time but they got through it.

The resourceful duo also sell homegrown garlic at local markets and grow their own pumpkins, cabbage, potatoes, as well as having their own honey supply.

Discussing West Cork, Sandra said while the weather can be a bit dull at times, she is very happy living in this part of the world.

“I’m between places now, I will never be born and bred West Cork, but I feel less and less German, I don’t know what I am now. This is my home, I don’t want to go anywhere else.”

In saying that, Sandra said the sequential days of rain are hard to endure and getting hit by storms can also be tough.

“It is hard when everything turns to mud and everything is damp, but I would prefer too much rain to drought and trees dying.”

Sandra said she finds the West Cork community very welcoming and said she thought West Cork probably had the largest number of blow-ins in Ireland.

“I have found people very open. There are people from Britain, Holland, Germany, America here. The locals seem interested in who we are and what we are about.”

“I love my natural surroundings in West Cork — the sea, beaches, hills, woodlands, and how easy going and friendly people are.”

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