Saved by a trusty steed

Personal tragedies experienced by Gillian McCulloch and her family are helping to rescue youth from Ocean View, Masiphumelele and The Homestead in Khayelitsha from human trafficking and physical and sexual abuse through equine therapy at Tom Ro Haven in Welcome Glen, Cape Point.

“The idea of Tom Ro Haven came about as a result of numerous personal tragedies my family experienced starting in 2006. My nephew died in the Helmand Province in Afghanistan at 21, we were hijacked, had a home invasion and my mom passed. The tragedies continued and we needed something to help us to remain sane, so my son spent more time in the ocean and my daughter, Stephanie, and I started volunteering at the horse care unit at the SPCA,” Gillian McCulloch, founder of Tom Ro Haven says.

It was at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) that they became aware of the huge problem there is with breeding, neglect, abandonment, abuse and far too many horses, donkeys and ponies being euthanised regularly.

“Although my son and daughter learnt to ride and loved it, I had not ridden nor worked with horses in more than 20 years. It was a challenge to suddenly be working with horses with various issues, sometimes aggression.

“This forced us to be in the moment and respect and learn and listen, and as a result the animals healed us as we were healing them. With my medical background I started researching clinical studies on equine therapy and found that it has been well documented internationally,” McCulloch says.

The McCulloch family decided that they needed to try and rescue and heal horses so that the animals could help them rescue, heal and educate people, especially young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Initially Tom Ro was funded by a philanthropist who regularly gave to animal causes but wanted to make a difference in people’s behaviour, and he loved the idea of equine therapy.

“We registered the non-profit organisation (NPO)and rescued our first horses and started working with boys from The Homestead in Khayelitsha.

“We rescued a little Welsh pony mare with a broken neck, a thoroughbred-cross mare with a broken leg and a couple of thoroughbreds that were going to be euthanised because they did not want to run, says McCulloch.

“The interactions and the results we were seeing between the boys and the horses were beyond anything we had expected. When we received our NPO number, the philanthropist withdrew his offer and I started to fund everything and sold goods. We have 14 horses and help approximately 40 people in a week,” McCulloch explains.

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