The Equistria Therapeutic Development Centre was established in 2000 and changed to The Equistria Lifestyle Retreat during 2018. Since 2020 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!

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 Marie 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. The Equistria Therapeutic Development Centre has been the base for this project, involving Psychology Honours students ever since.

The Psychology Honours students 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, Marie Olivier and Dr Pravani Naidoo 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 benefit. 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.

In 2006 the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association of Europe 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 again.

With her previous experience of therapeutic riding and work, alongside teachers, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, and psychotherapists focussing on disabilities, 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 became her partner as life coach and they designed an Equine Assisted Program based on his program, Live Positive! These 6-week teambuilding programs was immensely powerful and lead to a collaboration with the University of the Free State’s Leadership Programs.

Marie moved steadily more and more from the general field of alternative healing to the field of quantum medicine, which always fascinated her. Since 2013 she qualified as a Law of Attraction Practitioner, Master Life Coach and Journey Practitioner and became a Reiki Master in Advanced Healing. She later also served as a mentor in Addiction Programs of Rehab Hospitals and designed an Intervention Program for Schools with traumatised pupils for the Department of Education.

During 2016 she developed a holistic Equine-Assisted-Quantum Program and in 2018 she combined this with the Journey Method and TRE sessions to create a 5-month Life Purpose from Essence Program. This program was so powerful that she turned it into a week retreat during 2019 and officially offered the first Equistria Lifestyle Retreat during April 2020.

This was the combination of all Marie’s interests and highest excitements as a professional, manifested in one beautiful process!

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 Live Positive Team-building Program with Herman Veitch

2016: 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)

Read more about the Background and Benefits of Therapuetic Riding.

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

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