Mental Health and Wellness

How I Got My Horsepower Back

Marianne’s story:

Thirteen years ago, I gave birth to a beautiful girl. I knew before she was even conceived, that she was going to join our family and be unique.

You see, I dream a lot. By a lot, I mean every single night, and often my dreams are prophetic. My deceased Italian Nonno had visited in me in a dream and told me I was going to have a “special” girl. I could tell by his tone and bittersweet smile that he was trying to warn me that it would be a mixed blessing.

Upon waking up from this dream, I was left with a feeling that this was pre-destined. Little did I know to what extent the arrival of this baby was directly linked to my life purpose.

The Reality of Parenting a Special Needs Child

On March 28th, 2006, my daughter with special needs came into this world with the greatest peace I have ever witnessed. As soon as they put her in my arms, I knew our souls had chosen to do some important work together in this lifetime. I felt gratitude about having a degree in Occupational Therapy because I had some idea of how to address my daughter’s needs. It was not a coincidence that my main scope of practice was in Pediatrics. The Universe had prepared me. I found considerable strength in my strong spiritual beliefs.

I found considerable strength in my strong spiritual beliefs.
Mother of special needs child

I would be lying through my teeth if I were to say that I did not experience bouts of extreme sorrow. My daughter did not have the muscle tone to feed properly (let alone breastfeed), and could not sleep through the night due to a rare undiagnosed seizure disorder that is triggered when the brain sleeps. I also did not have help or support as my family lived out of province. I was a prime candidate for post-partum depression, and surely enough, I fell ill.

At various stages of my daughter’s development, I felt overwhelmed by the huge sense of life-long responsibility for this precious being. I felt a terrifying lack of control to assure her with a positive outcome. Loneliness also crept-in as I often felt unable to relate to moms of typically-developing children. My daughter was often excluded from play dates and parties due to her differences. The heartbreak I felt was suffocating. I worked very hard to create her an ideal life, and was quite successful at it, but it took its’ toll on me.

Throughout the years, we spent all of our time, energy and resources helping our daughter develop by putting her in every possible therapy or treatment that could potentially help. Our life was intense, highly scheduled, unbalanced and all of us felt disconnected at times. I started feeling like I was falling apart at the seams. After 10 years of living like this, I could tell that my inner strength reserves were depleted.

Many special needs families live with the reality that life is comparable to a series of acute crises interspersed with chronic sorrow. The only way forward through difficult times is often by believing in something bigger than one’s experience. I found great purpose in helping other families with special needs and became a very active member of my special needs community. I have many soulful beliefs, but I did not truly tap into them until I was introduced to the world of horses.

Finding Serenity Through Equine Therapy

It all began when I thought I would try therapeutic riding with my daughter as a fun activity. I had no horse experience whatsoever and decided to take a few lessons myself. Well, it transformed my life…

Being in the presence of horses made me look at myself in ways no other person could ever manage, including a psychotherapist. The horses always provided me with immediate feedback as to how I was truly doing, even when I was not aware of my mental states. They also forced me to correct my moods when interacting with them or they wanted nothing to do with me.! And I got to receive the intimate, affectionate physical contact I so desperately needed at that time in my life. Also, the scent of horse fills my soul with absolute serenity. Talk about a powerful therapy! No pill could do all that!

Marianne bonding with a horse named Matilda.
Marianne with her daughter.

Through my journey back to myself, facilitated by the horses, I quickly came to realize that my happiness could not be directly dependent on how well my daughter was doing. I needed to look outside of myself for sustainable ways on how to cope with a situation I could not change. I decided to change what I could change.

I found my soul in the great outdoors!
Equine Therapist

I found my soul in the great outdoors! It sounds cliché, but I felt most connected to myself when I was connected to the natural world. Equine therapy became so effective for me that I became a certified practitioner in Equinisity so I could help other special needs families through horses. I adopted 3 horses of my own and moved my family onto a beautiful acreage outside the city, in the most charming Hacienda-style house you have ever seen! (Obviously, I never do anything half way).

Marianne and her family in the Alberta mountains.

The difference in my life now is NOT that I don’t feel sadness or stress. It is that I now have personal resources that can help me cope in difficult times. I have structured my life in such a way that allows me to live according to my highest values, by incorporating things which provide me with such joy on a soulful level, that I can better weather the storms that roll into my life. And trust me, there will always be storms by the very nature of my child’s disability. Will I ever get depressed in the future? Chances are I will. But just maybe, I will get through it with greater ease, and find my way back more efficiently.

Do I like my life now? No, I LOVE it because I got my HORSEPOWER back!

Marianne Disipio, Wellness Therapist, helps moms and children with special needs build inner strength and emotional stamina to live their best lives through equine-assisted self-help therapy, and equine-assisted social-emotional therapy.
Marianne works from her family ranch in Bearspaw, in the NW of Calgary.
Visit for more info. She always loves people stopping by for tea! You can reach her at 403-828-0242 or


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