CARING: Marcel with his horse Sasha. Marcel takes his reponsibilites with caring for her seriously.
CARING: Marcel with his horse Sasha. Marcel takes his reponsibilites with caring for her seriously. Contributed

WATCH: Unlikely trail to Olympic glory

AN 18-year-old quarter horse has been just the therapy needed to turn a young man's life around.

Marcel Butcher, a 12-year-old with autism, was struggling to find confidence and fight off feelings of depression until he started working with horses.

The budding horseman struck a bond with Sasha, an older mare, and now the duo are preparing to ride in the Special Olympics National Games later this year.

"Just being around horses is the best, when you're near them they calm down and I calm down," he said.

"When I have a bad day I go to Sasha and I am just happy. All my worries disappear."

Words, no doubt, all people who work with horses can attest too.

For Marcel's mum Rachel Butcher, it has been a pure joy to see her son develop his riding skill and his boost of confidence in the round yard, has lead to more confidence in the school yard.

The nurse, from Drysdale Victoria, rode horses as a child and spent a time working as a jillaroo in North West Queensland - she researched equine therapy and was eager to see if it could help her son.

"He has huge difficulty regulating his emotions, like anger, sadness, loneliness and self worth," she said.

"We took him for a riding lesson and he was hooked.

"I noticed from the first lesson he was calm, relaxed and engaged that night.

"I thought it must be a coincidence. But as we retuned again and again it became clear this was nothing short of a miracle what these horses were doing for him."

Marcel's autism wasn't diagnosed until he was in Year 4.

Rachel said she noticed early on her son, who is a twin, wasn't in pace with his brother Emilio when reaching childhood milestones.

"Emilio would meet milestones and Marcel would always be a long way behind and sometimes he never caught up," she said.

"Tragically when Marcel was four he witnessed his Poppy have a heart attack.

"Marcel then went within himself and his way of not being able to adapt to change was clearly evident.

"A teacher approached me when he was in Grade 4 and confessed that Marcel was 'flying under the radar' and that he had been able to work out how to go unnoticed by fading into the shadows."

After getting the official diagnosis Rachel was distressed, angry and wondered what she had done wrong.

"I naturally went into 'I can fix this this mode' until a friend of mine said 'Rach... he doesn't need to be fixed! He is not broken!'"

Rachel describes herself as "privileged" to be Marcel's mum, but didn't deny there had been plenty of hard work.

"Marcel struggled with making friends over the years. He is quiet and keeps to himself... he has been teased and called names," she said.

"Also because of his autism he can have sensory overload and get very anxious and also depressed. Marcel used to scream 'I am a failure to life', he was so good at putting himself down, he truly believed this too.

"There was some very dark days for such a young child - it was the most hurtful thing as a parent to wittiness."

However, now that Sasha is in the picture much in the Butcher family has changed.


SPECIAL BOND: Marcel Butcher with Sasha, a horse he will compete on in the Special Olympics National Games later this year.
SPECIAL BOND: Marcel Butcher with Sasha, a horse he will compete on in the Special Olympics National Games later this year. Contributed

Being mentored from the staff at Wallington Park Equestrian centre he developed his riding skills, and is now preparing for the Special Olympics.

"He has made a very special friend with Leah Blackmore, who has taken him under her wing and continues to mentor him," she said.

"She has been right beside him all the way and encourages him to reach for the stars and never give up."

Leah's fierce encouragement left a mark on Marcel, as he freely stated after he completes the Special Olympics, his goal is to one day make the "real Olympics".

"If you have autism you shouldn't let it get in your way because everyone is the same," Marcel said.

"We are different, not less."

Marcel will compete in dressage, working trail, English equestrian and pole bending.

"I am training almost five times a week and trying to get my position right," he said.

Rachel is, of course, proud of her son's achievements but made mention of the phenomenal horse that had helped him on his way.

When the family realised Marcel's riding goal weren't a phase they looked at many horse before settling on a deal to buy Sasha.

The pair had an instant connection.

"We will be forever in debt to Sasha and the joy she has brought to Marcel," she said.

"Since having her he now has made some great friends who share the same love of horses, he has a new confidence and believes in himself.

"He has goals, dreams and aspirations. We as parents could not ask for more."

Rachel shared a short video of her son working his mare on the Ringers From the Top End Facebook page - the clip has been viewed more than 12,000 times. 

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