Miracle ride: How a mare named Sasha changed Marcel’s life

Miracle ride: How a mare called Sasha changed 12-year-old Marcel Braun's life


Life & Style
Drysdale's 12-year-old Marcel Braun with his 18-year-old quarter horse Sasha at Werribee last year. Marcel will be competing in the equestrian events at the Special Olympics National Championships in Adelaide. It completes a stunning two-year turnaround for the young Victorian.

Drysdale's 12-year-old Marcel Braun with his 18-year-old quarter horse Sasha at Werribee last year. Marcel will be competing in the equestrian events at the Special Olympics National Championships in Adelaide. It completes a stunning two-year turnaround for the young Victorian.

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A story about the bond between a 12-year-old boy and his new best friend

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The video isn’t even four minutes long and is nothing out of the ordinary to your standard horseman.

But to Rachel Butcher, the phone footage of her 12-year-old son Marcel working his mare Sahsa is nothing short of a miracle.

“You look at him in the ring with her and he is a completely different person,” she said.

“It is just overwhelming. The bond they have. It’s better than winning the lottery to see him like this.”

By Rachel’s account, the Marcel of today is unrecognisable to the anxious, depressed boy who was struggling big time at school two years ago.

The boy from Drysdale will be competing in the equestrian section at the Special Olympics National Games in Adelaide in a couple of months, but back in 2016 - freshly diagnosed on the autism spectrum - Marcel considered himself an ugly, fat, “failure at life”.

Rachel, a nurse, and her husband Thorsten, who works with Victoria Police, were at a loss when Marcel’s teachers reported his continued withdrawal from lessons.

“He was only 10 but he was showing signs of depression. He was hugely anxious. Because of the diagnosis he said that he didn’t feel like a real person.”

Rachel says the turnaround began with his introduction to riding.

“I had horses when I was younger, and I spent some time as a jillaroo,” Rachel said. “And I had so many great memories.

Sasha and Marcel.

Sasha and Marcel.

“Then I saw equine therapy when I was doing some research on what could help Marcel and I thought we could at least give it a try.”

He hadn’t ridden before but there was an instant impact when Marcel was introduced to horses at Wallington Park Equestrian Centre.

“That night I noticed something very different about his demeanour,” Rachel said.

“He was calm, happy, engaged. It was an instant change.

“At first I thought maybe it was a good day, a coincidence. But the more we took him back less frequent his bad days became.”

Marcel learned how to be balance on the horse, become engaged with the horse, feel its movement, what it was going to do next.

“The horse mirrors your behaviors, so if you’re anxious, it is going to anxious,” Rachel said.

“So though Marcel wouldn’t do it for us, or himself, he had to do it for the horses.”

“But when he met Sasha, he said ‘she’s the one. I want her’.”

“But when he met Sasha, he said ‘she’s the one. I want her’.”

Marcel transformed.

He was doing better at school. He had friends. He had confidence.

“I just feel happier,” he told The Land.

“He’s a different kid,” Rachel said. “He was sleeping better. He found a new confidence in himself. People knew his name. It’s amazing.”

So successful were his lessons that it made sense for Marcel to get a horse of his own.

“Finding one was interesting,” Rachel said. “Marcel had a very specific animal in mind. We searched for months and months and nothing was quite right. Things like they’d move their head a certain way he didn’t like.

“But when he met Sasha, he said ‘she’s the one. I want her’.”

Sasha - an 18-year-old quarter horse from Little River - was far less illustrious than some of the other animals the family had looked at.

But the bond was undeniable.

“If he has a bad day he’ll just say he wants to go see Sasha. He doesn’t even want to ride her, just sit there on the grass and talk to her.”

“If he has a bad day he’ll just say he wants to go see Sasha. He doesn’t even want to ride her, just sit there on the grass and talk to her.”

“If he has a bad day he’ll just say he wants to go see Sasha,” Rachel said.

“He doesn’t even want to ride her, just sit there on the grass and talk to her.”

Marcel now rides five days a week now and is a member of Riding for the Disabled Victoria.

“I like her because sometimes she goes really fast, other times she’s nice and slow and gentle,” Marcel said. 

At Werribee back in July he won his first gold medal, making him eligible for selection in the Special Olympics National Games in April.

Marcel has accepted the invitation, but is a little apprehensive: He won't be able to ride Sasha in Adelaide.

But he’s been practicing hard with other animals to prepare himself, and is competing under one condition.   

“He said to me that as long as he knows Sasha is looked after for the week he’s gone, he would do it,” Rachel said.  

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