The Equistria Therapeutic Development Centre was established in 2000 and later became a Venue for Equine Facilitated Emotional Intelligence and Wellness Workshops, after the Life Principles for Transformation and Wellness Centre was established in 2016. Since 2020 International Retreats with different focus points developed and these are now offered across SA.


When I’m disabled, I look up to people, when I’m on a horse, people look up to me!

Equistria started in 2000 with a vision of providing therapeutic benefits to people with the help of horses. Growing up on an Arabian Horse Stud Farm, (The Rass El Bar Arabian Stud), and her whole family competing in different horse sports, the owner of Equistria was well aware of the benefits horses had to offer, as she also lived, since the age of 6, with the devastating effects of cancer leaving her sister mentally and physically disabled due to brain cancer at the age of only 18 months, and causing her brother to lose his leg due to bone cancer at age 13.

This background created a default focus on health and wellbeing in the owner’s life and she discontinued her master’s degree in Agrometeorology and Climate Change in 2000, in favor of working with disabled children and horses, as part of a community project in collaboration with the University of the Free State. She did training in Learning Facilitation at the UFS Centre for the Development of Life Skills, Department of Psychology, and acquired a Therapeutic Riding Certification as well as an International Paralympic Equestrian Sports Certification for Trainers. She also trained with SARDA (South African Riding for Disabled Association) in Cape Town. She served on the university’s KOVSCOM Development Therapy Committee and later served as Chairperson.

During 2001, the University of the Free State moved their Community Service Therapeutic Horse-riding Project to Equistria’s premises, where it continued under the supervision of Marié Olivier, owner of Equistria, and the head of the KOVSIE Community Service Department. In 2005, the Department of Psychology changed this project to The Therapeutic Horse-riding Community Service-Learning Project and the Equistria Therapeutic Development Centre has been the base for this project ever since.

The project forms part of the Psychology Honours Students’ Community and Social Psychology Module (PSHC 6804, NQF Level 8), where they have to work on a weekly basis with Equistria’s horses and pre-school children with neuro-developmental diagnoses, to stimulate psychomotor-functioning-stimulation and promote well-being. This is coordinated by Dr Pravani Naidoo, who did her Ph.D. on “The Influence of Therapeutic horse riding on the adaptive functioning and well-being of children with cerebral palsy”. Together, Marié and Pravani believes in recognising and promoting strengths and capabilities in individuals with disabilities, thus providing invaluable training opportunities for both children with disabilities and students at Equistria. The therapeutic riding forms a key part of a multi-disciplinary treatment team, by complementing the physiotherapy and occupational therapy sessions that the children receive at school. The aim of the therapeutic horse riding is to help riders to be as independent as possible, while ensuring the maximum therapeutic benefits. The individual attention and psychomotor stimulation which children receive during therapeutic riding activities, contributes to the prevention of secondary impairments, and works towards promoting their psychosocial well-being.

Marié continued Horse Mastership and Riding Instruction studies at the Beaulieu College Equestrian Academy in Gauteng and qualified under the South African National Equestrian Federation as a Certified SANEF Instructor in 2006. Her sister competed in the Para-lympics at the Nedbank National Championships for the Physically Disabled, winning Gold and Silver Medals in Dressage.

In 2006 the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association of Europe (EAGALA), introduced Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Learning in South Africa and this was the catalyst event that opened a whole new world to Marie. Dr Pravani decided to keep her focus on the Therapeutic Riding and Marie shifted her focus to Equine Assisted Activities from the ground. She pursued this by completing her certifications with EAGALA (Europe) as well as EAPISA (Equine Assisted Psychotherapy Institute of South Africa), serving as the Free State Branch of EAPISA for 5 years. She further qualified as a Horse Behaviour Specialist at the Ethology Academy of South Africa and never looked back.

With her previous experience and focus on therapeutic riding and years of work alongside teachers, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, and psychotherapists, she now started to collaborate with various mental health professionals, with the focus on equine assisted therapy from the ground. She facilitated at Rehab Hospitals alongside social workers, psychotherapists, and psychiatrists, but found the greatest joy alongside life coaches.

In 2008 Herman Veitch, Owner of Quantum Flow Coaching, became her partner and they designed an Equine Assisted Program based on his master’s degree in psychology: “Developing Psychological Strengths in Adults”. This Program was called, Live Positive, and these 6-week teambuilding programs were immensely powerful which led to a collaboration with the University of the Free State’s Leadership Program.

Marié moved steadily more and more from the general field of alternative healing to the field of quantum medicine, which fascinated her, due to her experience with horses. Since 2013 she acquired a Master Healer Degree and Master Teacher Degree in the Usui and Tibetan system of Natural Healing, as well as an International Jikiden Reiki Practice Certification to become a Reiki Mater in Advanced Healing. She also qualified as a LOA Practitioner with the Global Sciences Foundation, as well as a Master Life Coach with the International American Union of NLP, (Neuro-Linguistic Programming).

In 2016 she established Life Principles for Transformation and Wellness (Reg. no.2016/375751/07), with Equistria serving as the company’s base. She also received the Vice-Rector’s Award for Community Engagement in recognition of outstanding service, commitment, and excellence in the field of community engagement, as a collaborator and external partner of the University of the Free State for more than 15 years.

In 2018 she qualified as an International Journey Practitioner, which included in-depth Enneagram training, (Practice No. 37551). As a result of the Journey work her experience with trauma integration expanded and she served as a mentor in Equine Facilitated Addiction Programs of Rehab Hospitals. She also designed an Intervention Program for Schools with traumatized pupils for the Department of Education. This School Intervention Program involved the identification of schools with the most difficult situations and doing classroom Journey Processes, after which 10 kids from each school were selected to finish the program at the Equistria Therapeutic Development Centre. The Program included a multi-disciplinary team engaging in 3-hour sessions with Equine Assisted Activities, Journey Processes and Tension Release Exercises. The intervention was life altering, with evidence-based results and follow-up testimonials from kids and teachers, to test sustainable outcomes.

By the end of 2018 she developed an Integrative Equine-Facilitated-Emotional-Intelligence and Awareness Program and combined this with the Journey Method and Tension and Trauma Release Processes and Skills to create a 5-month Life Purpose from Essence Program. This program evolved into a 35-hour workshop or week retreat during 2019 and the first Equistria Emotional Intelligence and Wellness Retreat was offered during April 2020. This was the combination of all Marie’s interests and highest excitements as a professional, manifested in one beautiful process after 20 years of intensive research and personal experience!

Life Principles for Transformation also became a Services SETA Accredited Training Provider, accredited to offer the SAQA Unit Standard on the principles and concepts of emotional intelligence to the management of self and others.

During 2022 Marié became a Certified International TRE Provider for Trauma and Tension Release and Integration, and she expanded the Life Principles Group to include extensive Physical and Emotional Detoxification Processes in her program.

She currently offers workshops and retreats with different focus points across Southern Africa.

2006: Developing balance and confidence in children in a therapeutic environment through lunging activities and dressage principles.

2008: Specialising in Riding for the Disabled and competing in the Para-Olympics, winning a Gold and Silver Medal – Rider and medallist: Chrisna Muller, diagnosed with brain cancer at 18 months.

2008: The Equine Facilitated Live Positive Team-building Program with Life Coach, Herman Veitch.

2016: The Therapeutic Horse-Riding Community Service Project of 16 years

Psychology Student’s Reflection on the Therapeutic Horse-Riding at Equistria: Marie’s whole project at the stables is person-centered and aimed at helping people from all walks of life to live a psychologically healthier, more fulfilled life. She is not only concerned with the children that have THR and their needs, but sees a bigger picture of a mentally healthy society of which we are all part of. This is evident from the remarks she makes, like the importance of “grounding” and gaining energy from your surroundings.

She is also giving us the opportunity to engage with the horses, without the children being present – providing us with a therapeutic experience. In the helping profession I think it is important to aim not only at the well-being of the client, but also their wider context and how that can be achieved. It is also important for the “helper” to either seek or accept help from someone they trust in order to maintain their own psychological well-being. – Thania (UFS)

2018: School Intervention Program in collaboration with the Department of Education in the Free State region.

2020: The five-month Life Purpose from Essence Program, turned into a one-week Equistria Emotional Intelligence and Wellness Retreat, with the Equine-assisted-processes as the main approach to test theories and truths about life.

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