An equestrian centre in rural Helensburgh will soon host the premiere of an emotional new film called The Healing about the work a former mounted police officer is doing to help military veterans and veterans of the racetrack.
The hour-long documentary has been five years in the making and will also be premiered in Melbourne when lockdowns end. It is about Scott Brodie's mission to help retired race horses settle into a new life after racing, with the help of defence force personnel who have suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) while serving Australia.
Like thoroughbreds after they stop racing, many people who have served in the armed forces find it difficult to readjust when they return from active duty.
Mr Brodie's program helps both horses and humans by providing them the opportunity to form a special bond. The kind of connection horses only allow to happen once an honest relationship is established.
That can take time but the program has been so successful Mr Brodie is now welcoming emergency service personnel struggling with the things they have seen as first responders to accidents, fires and natural disasters.
The program started eight years ago in Kangaroo Valley but has been operating from the Prestige Equestrian Centre for the last 18 months. Mr Brodie said as word spreads about the Thoroughbred and Veterans' Welfare Alliance, demand is growing which is allowing more horses to be saved. He and property owner Will Carnarvan are now looking at how accommodation can be provided on-site.
"We run programs where veterans assist us in the retraining of thoroughbreds which helps them find new careers and homes after racing," Mr Brodie said.
"Thoroughbreds are trained for a specific purpose and at the end of their career they need to learn how to do what normal horses do. It is very similar for veterans when they finish their careers. They have been conditioned to do certain things and when they come back all those things don't fit in with normal society and a lot of them struggle."
Mr Brodie said it was incredible seeing race horses and veterans make the transition together: "Most of the guys and girls involved haven't had anything to do with horses before".
He said most people thought of race horses as flighty and excitable, but they were also very sensitive and great at reading body language.
"But they don't have many horse skills when they retire from racing and a lot of them don't have the social skills they need with other horses," he said.
"I have a system I have developed over the last 30 years on how to retrain them. Introducing them to other horses is part of the process. There is no riding. It is about learning communication. And it is about learning to control your body language and your energy levels. Horses are a pretty good reflection of us. You can't lie to a horse."
Mr Brodie said every encounter was different. And being angry, acting tough or being too passive doesn't work with a horse.
"They are looking for a confident leader and if they don't get one they don't want to play. In the process people quickly learn a lot about themselves."
Mr Brodie has seen complete change in people with anger issues after being set straight by a horse.
"They basically say if you don't change your attitude I am not playing with you."
Mr Brodie said five day courses were ideal which is why he is looking to build accommodation on the property at Helensburgh.
"It is a pretty insidious thing PTSD. It really holds people back. I find those moments when we sit around and debrief are probably just as important as what we do during the day. I am no therapist. I am just a horse guy. It just so happens that what I do seems to help people."
Mr Brodie does everything in his own time at his own expense and wants to grow the program. Which is why he is in the process of starting a not-for-profit organisation called Horse Aid.
He is driven by all the tears and gratitude from people telling him how the program has saved their life. And many go on to work with horses. Some volunteer with Riding for the Disabled while others have started their own businesses.
Among them is Isaac Adams who did the program in 2017. "I served in Afghanistan in 2011 and was looking at different therapies. I was going through some treatment with a psychologist and was finding it difficult to deal with some of my experiences," he said.
Mr Adams found out about Mr Brodie after rescuing a horse from a sale that would have ended in it becoming dog food.
"It really took me back. I thought about how I was in a pretty desperate place and how those horses were in a pretty desperate place. I decided I wanted to teach myself horsemanship."
Mr Adams was told about Mr Brodie from a couple in the racing industry.
"I arrived very wired and aggressive. He said 'mate you can do as much or as little as you like. Just come and hang out'. He gave me a couple of thoroughbreds to work with."
Mr Adams had never been around horses before but after three months, one horse he trained found a new home with the police. Last year Mr Adams moved from Camden to Queensland where he started a similar program called Healing With Horsemanship.
"I work with kids from defence families and veterans. I am giving back what Scott gave me. I loved my service in the military and I am proud to have fought for my country but when I came back I didn't know how to deal with my experiences. I also see that in thoroughbreds. The tools Scott gave me to help these horses I was able to use myself. That is what makes this so different to equine therapy or anything else. I have tried lots of things and this program works."
Originally from Maroubra Mr Brodie was working for Racing NSW with a thoroughbred retraining program at the time.
He had already left the police force after being heavily involved in the mounted police operation for the Sydney Olympics. He was even sent to Atlanta in 1996 to see how the mounted police were deployed.
Mr Brodie was also involved in starting a program teaching prisoners how to work with horses at St Helliers Correctional Centre near Muswellbrook.
Meanwhile he still runs his own business training horses and instructing riders in classical dressage
The Healing is being produced by Nick Barkla and was to be premiered at the 2021 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival until the COVID lockdown in Victoria.
Mr Brodie said he has retrained and rehomed more than 1000 horses and more than 100 veterans have been involved with the program at Helensburgh.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.