Horses guide family from tragedy to a future of hope

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Jess Miller says ‘horses are amazing at connecting with people and I want to share that’ Inset - People offered Jess donations to charity instead of flowers after Clifford’s death and she ended up setting up a Gofundme page and raising more than £3,000 and Jess Miller at work.

30th June 2021

By Juliet Lunam

High up on a Cornish hillside a woman jogs along with a horse twice the size she is to stables filled with more than a dozen four-legged friends.

Among the other ponies are the newest members of the family, Angel and Trinity foals born days apart. Foals which have helped this woman start to heal after the death of her 19-year-old son, and which will help keep the endangered breed of Suffolk Punches going.

Jess Miller moved her five children to Portreath from Doncaster 11 years ago. She bought a plot of land and started to rebuild her horse riding business Penny Red’s Ponies with the vision of opening a Suffolk Punch horse breeding farm and riding centre.

Then Jess’ son, Clifford, took his own life. “Clifford’s dad committed suicide when Clifford was six and a half,” Jess said. “He never really talked about it but it started coming out in anger. We found the ponies were really therapeutic. Penny Red was our first and we named this place after her.

“The plan was to set up as a visiting, breeding and riding centre and do equine assisted therapy. But when Clifford died it flipped everything upside down.” People offered Jess donations to charity instead of flowers after Clifford’s death and she ended up setting up a Gofundme page and raising more than £3,000.

She decided to use the money to build Clifford’s Cabin a therapy centre with indoor and outdoor space to offer sessions for young people with mental health issues and a chance for them to connect with nature and animals.

“It is something Clifford would approve of”, Jess said. She added “Clifford was so loving and everybody he spoke to would say he’d just come and put his arms round you. If anybody was down he’d be the first one to be there for them. But he was really angry at his dad and ended up feeling suicidal himself.

“I’ve always had a sense of being honest and thoughtful and offering people a smile and I brought my kids up like that. Clifford was like that but he masked all the hurt and pain he was going through.”

When the foals were born, Jess said they gave her a new lease of life. The first she called Angel and the second Trinity because she was born on the same date as Clifford and on the same day and at the same time as he died.

“This beautiful ray of light was brought here along with her sister at a time of grieving to guide us through the darkness into the light,” Jess said.

“These two little fillies mean more to us than anyone knows and they certainly will help us all take steps forward, giving us all a new lease of life.”

Jess is keen to get to work on Clifford’s Cabin and outdoor classroom and has had offers of help from qualified counsellor, Claire Tristram, who works with Georgia’s Voice, a charity set up by the mother of a girl who took her own life.

Claire qualified in 2009 in person centred counselling and went on to complete her degree the following year. She said: “Since then, I have worked with teens in student services at Camborne college and as a counsellor for Cornwall Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre and WAVES (Working Against Violence Empowerment Service).

“I also worked in a refuge supporting families, and trained in Theraplay as well as supporting suicidal callers and callers experiencing abuse on a helpline. As I have broad experience, it enables me to support a wider spectrum of people and ages. We are in the very early stages of discussing what Jessica is hoping to offer at this moment in time but I am very open to any of Jessica's suggestions, some of which are supporting younger children and families using Theraplay tools.”

Counselling aside, Jessica’s property is one which feels therapeutic in itself. She said: “I am excited to be including animals as part of this process too. This is certainly going to help offer a space which is warm, welcoming and non clinical for people needing support. It has already benefited people who have anxiety, low confidence and low self esteem. These can be contributors of severe distress, self harm and suicidal feelings. I was chatting to a mother who told me how being at Jessica’s and around the ponies has helped her son, who has autism.”

Jess has also been offered help from Omni-Build a community interest company which gets professionals and volunteers together to work on community projects. She said: “I feel Clifford is watching over me and I really want to get started on this project to help young people. Horses are amazing at connecting with people and I want to share that.”

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