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Spirit Horse Day continues to honour Alison Walsh’s memory

Madison Pretty (from left), Erin Gallant and Holly Dunphy, stand alongside Alison Walsh’s horse, Tinker, a 16-year-old Arabian cross horse at the Spirit Horse NL-Stable Life grounds on Indian Meal Line. A celebration of Walsh’s life will be held during Spirit Horse Day on Sunday from 10 a.m.
Madison Pretty (from left), Erin Gallant and Holly Dunphy, stand alongside Alison Walsh’s horse, Tinker, a 16-year-old Arabian cross horse at the Spirit Horse NL-Stable Life grounds on Indian Meal Line. A celebration of Walsh’s life will be held during Spirit Horse Day on Sunday from 10 a.m. - Joe Gibbons
TORBAY, N.L. —

Alison Walsh’s perseverance is what her mother Mary wants her daughter to be remembered for — that and the great love she had for family.

“What I would really want people to know about her illness is she was a very loving person who persevered and tried hard to overcome it all, but it caught up to her in the end,” said the Torbay resident. “She was grateful for anything anybody did for her. She appreciated everything, loved all her family. And she persisted, persevered and really tried to get through and work on things… Whatever happened that day, too many things came at over her at once. But she really did try.”

Alison Walsh committed suicide on Aug. 27, 2013. Her life is being remembered for the sixth year Sunday at Spirit Horse NL on Indian Meal Line. - Contributed
Alison Walsh committed suicide on Aug. 27, 2013. Her life is being remembered for the sixth year Sunday at Spirit Horse NL on Indian Meal Line. - Contributed

Alison was just 25 when she took her own life on Aug. 27, 2013.

“I would advise anyone who loses someone to suicide to speak their names. Don’t have any shame over it. And do something to remember them by — supposing it’s a private thing they are doing, or public,” Mary said.

“Don’t think you have to not think about them. Just keep them always in your heart. Love never dies.”

Parents never get past the loss of their child.

“But you learn to live with it,” she said. “The first year, or two or three years, I could not get past the why of it. I had to realize there is no answer and it is an illness that caused it.”

Mary and her husband Fred and Alison’s siblings, John and Susan, have remembered Alison with a scholarship to The Murphy Centre, where Alison completed her high school education.

Family members also faithfully attend the Spirit Horse Day at Spirit Horse NL on Indian Meal Line in Portugal Cove-St. Philip's, an event that honours Alison, who was well known in the horse community.

This year’s event takes place Sunday — from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Walsh said the family is eternally grateful to Spirit Horse-Stable Life Inc. creator and program director Erin Gallant for “all she has done and continues to do and how she always remembers Aly.”

“It’s very healing to having something positive to focus around that time. Six years, now, this year,” Mary said.

Alison Walsh is shown on her horse Tinker. - Contributed
Alison Walsh is shown on her horse Tinker. - Contributed

Alison’s horse, Tinker, remains at the stable and the Walshs visit a couple of times a year. They make a donation for their daughter’s birthday.

The visits are bittersweet, but Mary remains resolute about trying to erase the stigma surrounding mental illness.

“I have no hesitation talking about the fact Alison died by suicide,” Mary said.

“She had an illness and the illness killed her the same as she if had a heart attack or something.”

Mary also dislikes when people say suicide victims are cowardly or selfish.

“Cowardly is not how it is — the person just cannot do it anymore,” Mary said. “They want that heartache and pain gone. They’re tired.”

Mary also said her daughter was no saint and before they all realized she was struggling with mental illness, she went off the rails during her teenage years to the point she left home at 17.

But she said Alison often told her mother it was the best thing for her, as it made her independent.

Alison eventually learned she suffered from major depressive disorder, anxiety and borderline personality disorder but was seeing a psychiatrist and had dreams for her future.

Walsh was set to attend school for licensed practical nursing and had studied at Memorial University.

While studying earth sciences at MUN, she went on a research trip to Turkey in the Black Sea.

“She had a lot of experiences in her short life. It is good for us to look at it now and say at least she did this and that,” Mary said.

Alison left MUN to move to Ottawa, but that didn’t pan out.

However, while there, she acquired Tinker and had him shipped home the fall before she died.

Mary said Alison had dreams of opening a horse therapy barn for troubled youth, much like what evolved with Spirit Horse NL, which provides therapeutic interaction with horses for youth, adults, families and groups.

Alison loved animals all her life and first attended a horse camp as a child and volunteered as a young teen with Rainbow Riders, and also at the Torbay Newfoundland Pony Project.

Alison Walsh at an event with her former horse Beau. Walsh committed suicide in 2013, losing her battle with mental illness. - Contributed
Alison Walsh at an event with her former horse Beau. Walsh committed suicide in 2013, losing her battle with mental illness. - Contributed

With her half Newfoundland pony horse, Beau, she won ribbons in a number of competitions. She sold Beau when she left for Ontario and he remains with that family.

After Alison’s passing, Gallant offered to take Tinker for the equine therapy program and the Walshs were delighted.

Gallant knew Alison for years — since Alison was about 12. Alison had been her student and had worked for Gallant at times.

Part of the ceremony involves those attending placing their hands — covered in finger paint — on Tinker.

“That moment is very healing. It’s usually when we all cry,” Gallant said.

Gallant, who also struggles with mental illness, is proud of the Walshs’ efforts to break the stigma about mental illness.

“The world is changing a little bit. People are becoming more accepting,” she said.

“We need to continue to talk about mental health to try to help others who are struggling and that there are supports out there.”

This year’s event will unveil plans for Hope Acres as Gallant has plans to purchase a field behind the stable property so Spirit Horse can accommodate larger groups and create a safe outdoor space that supports mental health recovery and wellness.

The organization is fundraising for the land purchase.

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