Julie’s love of horses began in the 1960s growing up on acreage in Sydney, but it’s only since she acquired a disability in her 50s that she’s been able to reignite her passion for them.
“Horses saved me when I was younger and now they’re saving me again,” says Julie, who has lived with scleroderma for nearly 15 years.
“These days I’m less concerned about what’s going to happen in the future and I’m living for today and feeling happy in myself.”
Julie said in her early 50s her health started deteriorating, with doctors assuming her symptoms were related to menopause.
“I was tired all the time and because some of my other symptoms mimicked multiple sclerosis, doctors thought I might have that,” Julie said.
“It was a frustrating and scary time, especially because I didn’t know what was wrong but I knew something was.”
It took years for doctors to accurately diagnose Julie with scleroderma, a rare long-term condition that affects the connective tissue of the body. Connective tissue is the tissues that connects and supports your joints, muscles, skin and organs.
Not long after her diagnosis, the Sunshine Coast resident became seriously ill and was hospitalised for 6 months. Following her discharge, she required the use of a wheelchair for 18 months.
“This was a very hard time because I had to relearn how to everything, including how to walk,” Julie said.
“I knew that I could do it and my brain was still good, so I gave myself daily challenges. At first it was just to take a few steps every day.
“But then the next day I would push myself to do more. One day I was doing 100 laps a day of the hospital and as I grew stronger I was able to get outside and do larger laps.”
Julie, a former teacher who also worked in the special education department, said she managed to get her health back on track with a combination of a good diet, nutrition and keeping active and getting the right support.
It wasn’t until years later in 2017 that the Buddina local heard about the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
After doing her research and due diligence, Julie applied to access the NDIS through Carers Queensland, the state’s largest NDIS partner in the community.
Julie says before she accessed NDIS, her social life was virtually non-existent because her low energy levels meant she spent a lot of time watching TV and going to medical appointments.
“I had 10 years of living with my disability on my own and I was alright on my own, but I’m so much better on the NDIS,” she said.
A variety of NDIS-funded supports help Julie to regain some independence and have more control over her life. These include hand therapy, exercise physiology, occupational therapy, podiatry and physiotherapy.
“I depend on these people and they have made such a difference to my life. Without these supports I would find it much more difficult to move and function,” she said.
“I now also have my support workers who provide home help and social support and allow me to get out and start living my life more.
“Without my NDIS-funded support workers I would not be able to contribute to my household or to attend equine therapy. I also have a small budget for equipment that I require such as a wheelie walker and medical seating.”
Julie says having support workers has had a positive impact on her marriage, with her husband becoming less of a carer and more of a husband to her.
“As soon as we had support workers it changed the whole relationship with my husband,” she said.
“He also had a more time to do the things that he wanted to do and support workers took over the role of taking me out and about.”
Julie uses her own money to pay for equine therapy but the NDIS does fund some assistive equipment to make horse riding a possibility for her. This includes a cushion and special reins for her to hold on to the horse.
“I'm so grateful to NDIS for helping me because they provide the support for me to go out there and enjoy the horses, but I pay for my lessons and my riding equipment,” she said.
“I put money away every week so that I can do that. My dream is actually to get my own horse, but they’re not cheap.
“Equine therapy has not only been great for me physically, but mentally and socially. I cannot wait for Thursdays now.”
Julie’s passion for horses goes beyond spending time with them and riding them. She wants to help others who live with disability to discover the therapeutic benefits of spending time with horses.
Next on Julie’s list is writing a course and developing guidelines for equine therapy.
“I’m also determined to maintain an active social life through interests and courses and soon travel domestically to see my son graduate as an officer in the RAAF,” she said.
Julie said she often reflects on how her life has changed since acquiring her autoimmune disease more than 13 years ago.
“These days, for me, I think that having a disability isn’t all bad. Unlike many others who acquire a disability, mine was not caused by a crisis or traumatic event,” she said.
“My mindset and outlook on life is much more positive. I now have to think in a different way and I have to live in a different way.”
Her advice for those living with a disability is to not to delay speaking with their doctor or allied health professional about the application process.
“Don't delay the process of applying for the NDIS because it can be lengthy if you’ve got a complex disability,” she said.
“You must also have the right expectations of what supports are going to be provided to you. Talk to your doctor, your allied health professionals and try to get as much support as you can.”
For those struggling to come to terms with mobility aids, particularly older Queenslanders, Julie has a poignant message.
“Don’t be afraid to use the apparatus to help you. I would never have been able to walk again or get on a horse again if it wasn’t for assistive technologies,” she said.
“And don’t forget to value yourself, and importantly, don’t let others devalue you just because you live with a disability.”
Carers Queensland can support you to find out more about the NDIS, to apply for funding and to help you get started with the NDIS.
If you have a disability but are not eligible for the NDIS, Carers Queensland can help you identify and link to options for support in your community.
You can also contact Carers Queensland on 1300 999 636, firstname.lastname@example.org, or sign up to our LAC Connect app here.