'Those eyes': City girl turns love of horses into Edmonton-based equine therapist career

“Not that I was an odd kid necessarily, I was very loud and I had a lot of opinions and sometimes people didn’t like that and I often found myself alone, and horses didn’t care if I showed up quiet or loud, as long as I was able to do what needed to be done to take care of them.”

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Grandparents can hold a pretty special place in a person’s heart.

Britain Mills-Dawes has many cherished memories of her grandfather, Richard Battersby.

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After her parents divorced and her mother re-married, she met her stepdad’s father and the two built an unbreakable bond — through horses.

Her family always reminded her of the times she’d chase him out the door, running after him with pajamas on because she wanted to work on the farm with him.

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Or the times she’d rather join him and his friends for coffee, talking about leather prices and the weather instead of playing with the kids her age.

‘Taste of the ranching life’

“The way I fell in love with horses was through my grandfather. He was such a huge part of my life,” said Mills-Dawes.

“He taught me everything I know. He taught me how to be friendly with horses, how to approach them properly and making sure you’re always safe.”

Originally born in Saskatoon, her mom and stepdad moved to Calgary when she was six but, despite living in the big city, she was hooked on rural life and would go back to Saskatchewan every summer to help work on her grandfather’s farm.

“From the moment I was there, I got a taste of the ranching life … and I loved it,” said Mills-Dawes, who now calls Edmonton home.

“Watching my grandfather work with (horses), and how they moved and responded to his words. He was such a quiet man, but they listened to his every word and move. That’s what drew me into them.”

Children don’t always know what may unfold when they become part of a blended family but, for Mills-Dawes, meeting her new grandfather spurred a lifelong passion for horses and the ranch and farm lifestyle.

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Mills-Dawes has been able to take that love and turn it into a career as an equine therapist.

She works with farmers and equine owners all across the province to provide holistic care and nutrition for horses, including pre-habilitation and rehabilitation services to help fix and prevent injuries.

Equine practitioner
Equine practitioner Britain Mills-Dawes massages Tangerine Taxi’s muscles at Grey Horse Farm on Monday, April 22, 2024, near Sherwood Park. Greg Southam/Postmedia Photo by Greg Southam /Postmedia

Build trust with the horses

Mills-Dawes also provides demonstrations and workshops to help educate horse owners about equine health. She took part in the Horse Expo Canada event in Red Deer last weekend.

“It can be misunderstood, especially with performance horses that they’re just there to do the work and a lot of people, especially in the cities, don’t see the care that goes in behind the scenes, and I like to bring that to the forefront where I can,” said Mills-Dawes.

“After I do my health assessment, I will work on the horse’s muscles, feeling what I’ve seen. I’m not a miracle pill. I can’t fix it all in one day, especially if it’s a big thing.

“We need to create a trust contract, if that makes sense. They need to know I’m not there to hurt them.”

Growing up in Calgary, but a farm girl at heart, Mills-Dawes built her connection with the horses at her grandfather’s ranch.

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“I was always the horse kid. Whether that’s negative or not, I don’t know, but I always sported my belt buckle, had plaid shirts on. As a kid, I tried to be very country, because I defined myself as that, even though I lived in the city,” said Mills-Dawes.

“When it came to the horses, I think it was their eyes to be completely honest. I could tell when a horse was happy to see you or not. As a kid, I was very fascinated how their eyes were so soft.

“Not that I was an odd kid necessarily, I was very loud and I had a lot of opinions and sometimes people didn’t like that and I often found myself alone, and horses didn’t care if I showed up quiet or loud, as long as I was able to do what needed to be done to take care of them.”

Equine practitioner
Equine practitioner Britain Mills-Dawes massages Tangerine Taxi’s muscles at Grey Horse Farm on Monday, April 22, 2024, near Sherwood Park. Photo by Greg Southam /Postmedia

Her career as an equine therapist has given her the chance to fulfill her passion for horses, but in many ways, it’s given her the ability to keep alive that memory of her grandfather, who passed away at his ranch in 2019.

“He was a hell of a cowboy. I think about him all the time, especially when I see sorrel horses or mares, those were his favourite horses,” said Mills-Dawes.

“I try to make him proud, and still use what he taught me with horses. I’m quiet around them, I listen to them, I’m not just making an assumption about them. I watch their eyes, just like he always told me that they will tell you so much in those eyes, and so much about what their feeling in that moment if you just take the time.”

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