Quebec health-care workers have a chance to de-stress thanks to local horse rescue

A Horse Tale rescue in Vaudreuil-Dorion is welcoming health workers who feel burnt out by the pandemic to come and spend time with the horses.

Frontline health workers can visit A Horse Tale Rescue to decompress for free

Social worker Geneviève Tousignant, left, said she learns something new about horses after every visit to A Horse Tale rescue. (Radio-Canada)

Since November, Montreal social worker Geneviève Tousignant has been getting out of the city for a few hours a week to visit a horse from a rescue in Vaudreuil-Dorion.

"I focus on what I do with the horse, the size of the animal demands it," she said. "It makes you forget everything else." 

Tousignant said visiting the horse rescue is a chance for her to step back from the daily realities of her job working in Montreal's low-income neighbourhoods.

"We are dealing with many people who live on little income and who find themselves quite isolated. You feel a lot of helplessness."

Spending time with the horses, Tousignant doesn't mind that the conversation is one-sided. 

"It's also interesting to get in touch with animals because it doesn't require speaking, it's more about feeling. It's something new to me."

'A CHSLD for horses'

A Horse Tale rescue offers therapeutic visits for people with autism, Down syndrome and developmental disabilities.

After seeing the effects of the pandemic on health workers, the team behind the rescue decided to open up its services for frontline health workers as well.

"Sometimes they come and they just put their hand on the horse and they take deep breaths with the horse," said Lise Sandstrom, co-ordinator of the A Horse Tale Experience program.

The rescue has taken in horses, rehabilitated them and helped re-home them since 2013.

As an entirely volunteer-run non-profit with 200 members, it currently cares for 12 horses and a pony. 

Tousignant said the rescue is like a CHSLD for horses, and visitors help to care for them.

"Every time I come here, I learn something, which I really appreciate," she said.

With files from Radio-Canada's Anne-Louise Despatie