AN equestrian expert is working to raise awareness of mental health issues in the community.

Sonya McAleer is a show jumper and equine coach who primarily works across Fermanagh, Tyrone and the Border counties.

Originally from Omagh, Sonya spends a great deal of time in Fermanagh working with the equine community in places such as Necarne.

She has established a new mental health group support – Irish Equestrian Mental Health Project – with the aim of providing children and adults within the equestrian community with the right tools, support and training to cope with a variety of mental health issues.

Sonya said: “ My first step with this project is to raise awareness for a charity called AWARE NI, the he depression charity for Northern Ireland – and the only charity working exclusively for people with depression and bipolar disorder.

“AWARE NI delivers mental health and well-being programmes into communities, schools, colleges, universities and workplaces.”

The charity is close to Sonya’s heart, as she had suffered from mental health problems in the past.

She said: “I wanted to do something for mental health within the equestrian community, because I had suffered myself back in 2015 and 2016.

"I didn’t know myself back then about any help that I could get; I just kind of muddled through, as best I could.

"Working as a coach, I could see [people with mental health difficulties] more and more, and especially with the lockdown which seemed to bring it to the forefront of discussions.”

Speaking of her experiences with mental health difficulties to this newspaper, she said: “With depression and anxiety, I completely shut myself off.

"Back then, I was working in a call centre. I didn't realise I was depressed for quite a while.

"When it started getting worse, I was injured, so I couldn’t ride my horses anymore.

"I would go to work, and I would come home, and I would be in my bed by five o'clock.

"As soon as I came in the door, I just shut everybody out.”

Sonya was not aware of the support a charity such as AWARE NI could give her. She said: “Unfortunately, during my illness, I didn’t know about the amazing support that a charity like this could offer me.”

Sonya hopes that the project will help raise awareness of the supports available to members of the equestrian community.

She said: “As a show jumper and equestrian coach, all too often I am coming across both children and adults who are also suffering from mental illness.

“I feel many people within our community could benefit from help. The aim of this project is to raise awareness of mental health charities within the equestrian community, so people know where they can go for help.”

Sonya hosted a raffle for AWARE NI which raised a large sum of money for the charity. She said: "The starting point was to raise much-needed funds for AWARE NI. The raffle was a huge success, raising £7,677 in just four weeks.”

Sonya has been supported through her mental health journey by her family, partner and friends. She said: “That being said, it's still something that I have to work on daily, especially within the past year with the current situation [the Covid-19 pandemic] in our society.”

To become involved with the Irish Equestrian Mental Health Project, email