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HomeFarming News‘Suicides amongst those related to farming should not be hidden any longer’
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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‘Suicides amongst those related to farming should not be hidden any longer’

** Please note that some readers may find parts of this content distressing **

The Equine Confidence Coach: Rachel Cox

That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane in conversation with Rachel Cox, the ‘Equine Confidence Coach’.

“My mum’s family have been farming in the same area since the Vikings landed in the northwest of what is now England (I think at the time it was actually Scotland!).

When I was young, I was in the Pony Club and Young Farmers, which both helped me develop my life and confidence in a supportive environment, and gave me fantastic knowledge of the land and livestock.

Having gone through all the usual career ideas, I eventually ended up reading divinity at Glasgow and studying pastoral counselling.

When I left, although I did a post-grad diploma in business administration (there were not even MBAs in those days!), I still held a long love of the land and people.

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So, when I moved out to the Fenland area of England, I worked with a legal consultancy business in the agricultural field and worked with the clients on setting up conservation projects on their farms as well as dealing with the frustrations of forms for CAP, etc.

I was thinking of doing my MTh in Rural Theology, and so I was on the committee of the Rural Theology Association, where a group of people set up a new network to signpost people to help.

Foot and Mouth

However, that was inundated with phone calls during Foot and Mouth, and a lot of my family and friends were also connected, so I ran a counselling side to the work as well as continuing to do the forms for the arable guys locally.

I have experience providing counselling services to farmers, agricultural workers, and their families during the 2007 Foot and Mouth outbreak in the UK.

During this time, of course, people who had never ever considered talking to anyone were having to open up – or die.

Suicide rate

The suicide rate was horrendous, and depression was palpable in the areas hit – and not just farmers.

Whether you lost stock or not, you were in a horrible situation; in fact, losing stock was better as you got payments, and if you did not, the price of everything was being fleeced.

Disinfectant went to £90 for 5l in some places – and we think now the cost of living is high!

And to have, at the end of a phone, someone who was deeply in tune with the language and culture of farmers seemed to really help people open up and talk about their feelings to someone who was not in the family, and they did not need to be strong for.

I was able to help people who were distressed and suicidal, as well as those who were dealing with the aftermath of the outbreak, such as those who were responsible for killing and disposing of the cattle.

Now, I offer an open ear for people in the agricultural industry to talk to as someone who understands their specific rural issues.

I have walked alongside the agricultural industry at its lowest point – finding my own style and how that relates to people I care passionately about.

After F&M, that side really stopped, but I realised that I was in a place that many people never went into.

This was where people who needed help from outside the family and who did not need to be strong all the time – could go and talk, so people kind of turned up on my doorstep regularly.


One of the areas that picked up from that was a fairly steady stream of people who had lost confidence when riding their horses – whether from a fall or incident or from pressures from other people.

I would work with them and their horse to find out what was going on and help them to connect with their horse – sometimes re-connect, sometimes for the first time.

I could read what the horse said about them. Someone said recently on a video I interviewed them in that the horse is the ultimate lie detector – and they were not wrong!

Health service

I worked in the health service briefly with carers and soon discovered that most of the carers who were looking after people in the more rural areas were also having various issues relating to being isolated and frightened of the future.

Those who had livestock were also feeling very ‘stuck’ – so I was soon working mostly with those people to counsel them and to support them – and find various activities and support networks – where they could get other support from as well as what I was able to give in the few hours I had.

That was part of the impetus to setting up my own business. I had no shortage of people who I needed to see but a serious shortage of time in which I could speak to them.


So – to skip a good few years, I have worked and increased my learning and taken a number of courses in both business as well as counselling.

After working in a few relevant fields, I have found myself with a lovely small holding in Co Roscommon and a few horses.

Here, I want to put my skills and experience into a more useful and wider practice – in both listening and hearing farmers who can speak to me, knowing that I am a safe space with an in-depth understanding of the internal pressures that are found in farming families.

I talk to family members who want to examine their own futures and to build up the confidence that you do not always get in a social environment, even more so after the past few years of Covid-19.

Also, I speak to those studying at home and to horse owners who want to really re-connect with their horse and return to what they in their minds’ eyes and dreams – whether that is enjoying their company and watching them peacefully grazing or going out and competing at higher levels.

Horses for working with people

Because I also have a number of suitable horses for working with people, I also offer sessions of working with those who want to learn how to communicate in the world, how to feel better at work or home, finding out where they are ‘stuck’ and finding it hard to fit into their environment – or just wanting to learn new ways of managing and leading people but having problems communicating.

In addition to all of that – with or without horses – I also offer pre-marriage sessions, working within the Developmental Model of Couples Counselling.

This looks to each person being the best they can be in every relationship and bringing that ideal of 100% and 100% = 100% marriage.

So across all my services, when you come to me, you get someone who understands your lifestyle, concerns, and considerations, as well as the future changes that you may face.


For the future, I am looking at possibly thinking of retreats at weekends or short periods to achieve intensive work in the above areas that people really want to tackle and grow in for the fullest life they can.

Also, I want to always remain true and deep in my roots of being a safe listener to those who need it in the agricultural world.

It is great that we are strong and independent, but sometimes that needs to drop for an hour or so, and we can share what we need to to go back out there and be it again.

We are taught to be ‘independent and strong’ – never admitting fear or failure – facing these two things can be quite scary at times, and so it is hard to ask.

A break from being the ‘strong one’ at all times, where someone can hand over their feelings and fears for a while and have space with someone who knows everyday life and the importance of different systems to talk things through in an open manner.

New approach

I work alongside people in terms of where they are today, how they feel, what their fears and hopes are, how they interact with others and what they would like to get out of their lives.

Previously, I was able to participate in a variety of activities in a supportive environment where competition was high, but failure was not detrimental, and that is what has inspired me to create a new approach to help people of all ages improve their confidence and communication skills for their future.

My aim is for a more open understanding of why mental health needs to be talked about and why suicides amongst those related to farming should not be hidden any longer.”

To share your story, email – [email protected]

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