THE amazing ability of horses to aid recovery from a range of mental health challenges inspired keen rider Lisa Deacon to set up a specialist therapy business in Cornwall with the support of a Start Up Loan from the British Business Bank.

Lisa was working in a country pub when she realised her real vocation was outside in the fields. The keen rider has always loved being around horses and knew that bond between animals and humans can be an incredible force for good. When she reached a crossroads in her life, Lisa decided the time was right to turn her hobby into a full-time job.

After three years spent training and building up experience, she set up Equine Connect in 2021 to provide therapy through interaction with horses. People of all ages with a range of mental health issues, including trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder, can come to the Equine Connect site in Bodmin, Cornwall, to spend time with Lisa’s horses and ponies.

Last year, she applied for a £25,000 loan through the British Business Bank’s Start Up Loan programme to help fund the cost of a quad bike and some new fencing. The money was also used to create a therapy ‘safe corner’ for children to feel at home.

“Basically, it was for all the things I needed to help me run the business and I just didn’t have that extra bit of money lying around,” said Lisa. “I’m a one-woman-band, so anything that I can use or buy to help me is really important.”

Lisa says the money has provided a huge boost to Equine Connect and allowed her to ‘get going’, offering carefully tailored packages of assisted therapy.

Watching connections develop between people and horses has been incredibly rewarding for Lisa. She describes a number of heart-warming cases where clients who struggle to communicate find they can interact with their specially selected horse or pony as they learn to care for them.

“When you see that, the feeling you get, it’s so special,” said Lisa. “People often just burst into tears and then end up apologising because it’s taken them by surprise. We’ve already reached so many people, aged from five to 65.”

Lisa says receiving the Start Up loan has given her the confidence to take Equine Connect forwards.

“When the loan comes through it just gives you the sense that someone believes in you and what you’re doing,” she said, adding that starting a business from scratch is scary whatever stage of life you’re at and there have definitely been some ‘wobbly days’.

“But just keep going,” she said. “Ignore the negativity and focus on the people that are going to energise and help you and you’ll be fine!”