Science meets animal instincts

Support local, independent journalism

The SE Voice is the Limestone Coast’s only fully digital publication. Locally owned & operated, we deliver all the latest news & sport direct to your fingertips. We're run by a creative team of local journalists all based in the region. News as we know has changed - we're delivering it first and free. Thank you for your support in keeping local news alive.

Lechelle Earl, owner/editor

Science meets animal instincts

Several decades of riding and thousands of kilometres travelling around Europe experiencing a range of different equestrian events and establishments, brings unique perspective of horse and human interaction to Mount Gambier.

A keen interest in classical dressage led Marie Matter to establish Australian Baroque Riding Academy (ABRA) in 2020.

Originally from Adelaide, Marie said it had always been her dream to establish a riding school specialising in classical dressage.

What has evolved, has been a combining two of her passions – horses and the human brain’s cognitive abilities.

“I have always loved horses since I was around 18 months old and had lessons up until I was 15 at a popular riding school in the Adelaide Hills,” Marie said.

“Then I went to Flinders university and studied cognitive science, learning about human brains and human function then stayed on a few years where I had the honour to help contribute to the world’s first database of brain function.”

Feeling incomplete working in various corporate jobs that followed, establishing her own riding school was merely a dream.

“I always had this dream to establish my own riding school but it was put on the backburner to earn money,” Marie said.

“In my mid-20s to early 30s I took lessons at a highly prestigious classical dressage school in Adelaide which lead me to realise I wanted to teach riding.

“I got my teaching certificate – it took eight years, while working full time.

“Once I started to really study the French classical masters and how they trained horses I then decided to take my knowledge abroad.

“This decision took me on two trips to Seattle in USA to immerse myself in the unique teachings offered at what was then called the National School of Academic Equitation.”

Of all the varieties, this French lineage of training appealed most to Marie.

“I wanted to learn about horses in a different way,” she said.

“This lineage of training has been translated from French Classical Masters of the 15th to 18th century.

“It was not about forcing the horse to do what you wanted it to do.

“It was more about working with the personalities of the horse and working in harmony with the horse.

“When I realised I loved the academic side of classical dressage, my instructors encouraged me to go abroad to Europe – which lead me to go on a mammoth 4800km trip.

“I went to so many barns, learned what they did, how they trained horses. What worked and what did not work.

“Then I found classical masters in America. So went over to America and trained with them.

“It was like I had a Christmas tree of knowledge and they just turned on the lights.”

In a bittersweet twist of fate, in 2018 Marie’s husband Noe had an accident where he fell off a ladder, leaving him with severe brain injury.

Marie became his carer while also still working.

“I tried to continue working, but in late 2019 I could not juggle all of the responsibilities anymore,” she said.

It was then Marie decided to give momentum to making her dream a reality, with the support of her husband.

However, finding the ideal property near her roots in Adelaide was proving difficult.

“We could not find a property that matched what we wanted.

“It was you either live out of a caravan and have really good horse facilities, or you have no horse facilities and a sort of decent house,” Marie said.

“We saw the property in Mount Gambier advertised and followed it online.”

On a whim Marie suggested to Noel to stop by Mount Gambier during a road trip to Melbourne.

“Even if it was at least just to look at the property,” she said.

“We drove up the driveway and I burst into tears and said ‘I think this is our place’.

“I did not really want to move from Adelaide, but I think this is really our place.

“We packed up in two months and moved down here.”

That was back in 2015 and the couple, along with their daughter Chelsea, have not looked back.

“I have an extremely supportive husband who believes whole heartedly in my business venture,” Marie said.

Her keen interest for horses and background as a research assistant at Flinders University and Brain Resource Company has seen Marie combine the two passions to offer a unique service to clients.

“I love horses, brains and I love teaching, why not combine all of my passions,” she said.

“It was like one of those ‘aha’ moments where everything seemed to finally make sense.”

The program has become an art form focussing on harmony and connection between horse and human.

“I worked in a cognitive neuroscience lab for seven years doing brain scans and analysing data for researchers,” Marie said.

She also completed a degree in Cognitive Science, learning about human brains and human function.

After travelling abroad Marie was eager to share her newfound knowledge.

“With the knowledge I have gained it’s my duty to pass that on.

“It should not stop with me.

“I know I am unique with the skills I have attained over the years.

“I strongly feel my calling is sharing this amazing work to people and not keep it to myself,” she said.

“My original idea of having this place was for people to be able to just feel relaxed, but as I was starting to see students come through, I was thinking, ‘wow you are operating at a very fast pace.

“You are not even here’.

“I thought, I need to fix these guys’ mindsets.

“I need them to relax when they get through the door.

“I realised that my experience with the brain and learning about disorders, puts me in a really good place to do horse assisted learning.

“Horses mirror everything that is going on inside of you.

“It just made sense to branch out into the healing human space.

“So that’s when I went researching.

“I knew neuro feedback was effective at training our brain for various tasks but could we train our brains to access that calm state quickly when life gets difficult.”

At the recommendation of a friend Marie investigated the possibility of introducing neurofeedback hardware into the healing space.

“A friend sent me a link to a neuro feedback headband and I partnered with a company to use this technology before students even interact with our horses,” she said.

The EEG (electroencephalogram) technology has been a valuable tool for Marie and clients to study the individual brain function and cognitive processes experienced prior to interacting with horses.

The device tracks brain activity, much like a heart rate monitor senses heartbeat, the headband gains insights into overall mental states that is then translated onto an app.

Once calibrated to the individual, the headband senses when the mind is active and distracted, neutral and at rest, or calm and deeply focused and then translates this brain activity into the guiding sounds of nature.

The app receives real-time data on these brain and body signals from sensors in the headband and translates them.

“Animal therapy is a really large industry and it really works. That’s why people love horses so much and do not understand why – they make you feel amazing,” Marie said.

“The calm they give when you touch an animal, like patting a dog or a kitten purring on your lap.

“And how they respond. It’s a whole lesson in mindfulness.

“A simple pat, grounds you.”

Through her program, Marie aims at giving community access to the therapeutic benefits of working alongside horses to boost mental health.

“The data indicates positive impacts on focus, stress reduction, self-awareness and emotional regulation,” she said.

“Participants gain confidence and body awareness contributing positively to their overall wellbeing.

“Combining the mental training with equine-assisted physical activity the program promotes positive wellbeing through mental focus and relaxation.”

Marie said she is data and science driven.

“I can see clear differences in people from when they first started, and they can see it as well,” she said.

“It’s working for the client and they feel like they are benefiting from it.”

Though the headband is currently fitted only for adults, Marie offers one-on-one horse sessions for all ages and abilities.

“Some clients have been around horses previously and some first timers.My students range from six to 75,” she said.

Reflecting on where she was to where she is now, Marie said she is doing what she was born to be doing.

“I’m finding the more I live my passion the more I get back out of life and know I’m doing exactly what I was born to be doing, and I am loving every minute of it,” she said.

“This is my niche now.

“Combining brain science and classical dressage is incredibly rewarding.

“This is my sacred space and I work with horses in a way that I believe is for the betterment of both horses and humans.

“Horses keep me motivated – they are beautiful animals who share so much love, all you have to do is learn how to listen to them.

“The more people I can help, the better horses lives are going to be in the future.

“If I can help just one person feel more calm, I feel like I have fulfilled my duty in life.

“Healing horses and people.

“It’s not easy to trust your instincts, but I realised that as soon as I started following my own intuition, great things began to happen.”

For more information about Australian Baroque Riding Academy contact Marie Matter on 0404 833 455 or visit

Why wait? Get more stories like this delivered straight to your inbox
Join our digital edition mailing list and stay up to date on the latest news, events and special announcements from across the Limestone Coast.

Your local real estate guide - every Thursday


You might also like