Mepunga equine therapy team picks up statewide award

Award honour: Minister for Families, Children and Youth Affairs Jenny Mikakos (right) presenting the Excellence in Innovation and Team Work Award to the Mepunga team (from left) Pete Cheyne, Jennifer Ryan, Luke Annett and Alex Robertson.
Award honour: Minister for Families, Children and Youth Affairs Jenny Mikakos (right) presenting the Excellence in Innovation and Team Work Award to the Mepunga team (from left) Pete Cheyne, Jennifer Ryan, Luke Annett and Alex Robertson.

A unique south-west program that uses equine therapy to help heal children and young people has been recognised with a statewide award.

MacKillop Family Service’s Equine Therapy Hub at Mepunga received the excellence in innovation and teamwork award at the The Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare’s Resi Rocks Awards.

The team was honoured for creating an environment that provides young people with a sense of safety, structure and acceptance.

The Mepunga site is the first equine therapy hub in the region, established last year with support from philanthropic trusts and foundations. Working with horses is a recognised therapy that helps reduce stress and promote self-esteem.

Off the back of the program’s success, MacKillop area manager Cameron Burgess said there was now work being done to extend access to the wider community.

“We are in a strong agricultural and equine region and we believe there are opportunities to work across the community to expand equine therapy to young people in the wider Warrnambool area who would benefit from the healing process of learning about and relating to horses,” he said.

Mr Burgess said the program’s team of 11 worked together to develop positive relationships with young people.

“This house is fully integrated in the local community and youth resource officers from Victoria Police, child protection practitioners, case managers, and therapeutic practitioners are regularly invited to dinner which allows young people to develop a sense of safety with these professionals, as well as reinforcing a strong culture of attending the evening meal at the table,” he said.

The Mepunga team has had an eventful year so far, Mr Burgess said, including evacuation of the property in March due to the St Patrick’s Day fires.

“Everyone coped admirably in this potentially traumatic event, when our young people were worried about both their and our animals’ safety,” he said.

“Thanks to everyone keeping their focus on supporting our young people and the help of the local community, there has been no lasting trauma and our animals and property remained safe.”