A girl and her horse: Minna’s Creations

I’ve never met anyone who loves horses as much as Minna Sanders. And from this love of horses, a beautiful endeavour has grown.

Minna, having just finished Year 12 at Seton Catholic College, recently won a Good Sammy Business Start-up Award. This bubbly, passionate teenager was one of six recipients who received a cash grant to go towards setting up her own business.

Good Samaritan Enterprises (previously Good Samaritan Industries), is a Uniting Church WA agency providing employment options for people living with disability. They’re lovingly known throughout WA for their ‘Good Sammy’ op-shops, but they also provide a range of services helping people find meaningful employment. The award has been a huge asset for Minna, who will use  the grant for advertising and supplies for her micro business – Minna’s Creations. She is now well on her way to getting her pyrography woodwork into the market.

As well as horses, Minna’s second passion is art, which she found a pleasant distraction from the pressures of school. Living with autism, she was supported by her school and the Education  Support Centre; but art – specifically wood burning – became a useful and fun way of getting through tiresome classes.

“When I got bored during class and I didn’t want to interrupt my teacher from teaching all my classmates, I would just grab one of the school burners out and I would burn some scrap pieces of wood,” she said. “I couldn’t be bothered to do more woodworking stuff, and I just played around. It developed from me mucking around and just doing something so I looked busy and I dunno, that’s just how it started out.”

Her wood burning art is achieved by sketching an outline of a design onto wood with carbon paper, usually which Minna has drawn from a photograph, and then using a pyrography machine to burn the artwork into the surface of the wood. Minna’s grandfather, Allan Perkins, has also helped out with some of the woodworking process of the products. Minna’s horse, Bullet, is a regular star in her work.

Bullet came to Minna as a four-year-old Standardbred horse with a challenging past. He was originally trained as a Pacer in competitive horseracing, but one day decided he’d had enough: he lay  down at the starting gate, refusing to race. In the industry, he was rejected. But for Minna, he would soon be her best friend.

Before he came to Minna, Bullet sustained an injury from his leg straps being on for too long, and being pulled too tight. But soon enough, the pair met and have been riding together ever since.

“We’ve been partnered up for like, five years now,” Minna said. “He was four when we first got him, and he’s nine and going on ten this year! Gees!

“That horse! We’ve had a cowboy hat on him, he’s had Star Wars on him, and he’s been plaited up so many times when we’ve been playing around,” she laughed.

Not only has riding Bullet been a favourite pastime for Minna, but having him around has helped her through some pretty dark times. Growing up with high functioning autism has been hard, not  so much from the disorder itself, but from bullying she received throughout school and misconceptions from others around what having autism actually means. Minna said that living with autism  is just normal life to her.

“It doesn’t really mean anything to me,” she said. “The thing with people with autism is, we just think what we think is somewhat normal, and when we’re told this is what autism is, we’re like, ’is  that really what it is?’”

“Every person with autism is very different.”

She does admit she has had some challenges though.

“It’s made, for me, English really hard; I’m not a very good speller. I know a lot of people say that, but during school time if you gave me a test and you didn’t have a scribe there for me I would mentally shut down. I would be like, ‘I aint doing this, bye, I’m out’.”

Minna has loved horses her whole life, but when she got Bullet, during high school, he became a positive influence for her. He helped fulfil her passion for horses, and also gave her a whole lot of  purpose.

“He’s something that keeps me going in life,” she said. “I have done self-harming in the past and he was one of those things that had stopped me. I have had suicidal thoughts.

“One of the things that has stopped me is: where would Bullet go; who would be the one to ride him; what would happen to him?

“He’s one thing that I can have consistency with. And my mum.

“He is actually quite a loving horse. Not every horse will let you just walk up to them and hug them, some will run away and some might think ‘I don’t like you, I don’t want you near me’, or something like that.”

When her two passions collide, Minna creates beautiful works of art.

Her work has won numerous awards, including the Senior Award (Years 10, 11 and 12) for Materials and Design at Seton Catholic College; a saddle rack adorned with an image of herself and Bullet won second place in the Woodwork category at the Perth Royal Show; and a chopping board decorated with an anime (another love of Minna’s) ‘Citrus Girl’ won first prize in the Citrus themed event, also at the Perth Royal Show. And of course, now the Good Sammy Business Start-up Award, which will help turn her passion into an income.

One of her teachers in the Education Support Unit at Seton Catholic College, Jenny Young, suggested Minna could apply for the award, which led her closer to getting her business off the ground.

Minna said winning this award will be a great help to achieve independence after high school. She’s looking forward to working towards not having to rely on her parents for an income, and said that having the opportunity to work at home and at her own pace is invaluable for her. She’s also excited to be able to develop as an artist – recognising this as a lifelong process.

Minna’s work merges practical wood items with artistic flair. She’s made shelves, a horse saddle rack and numerous chopping boards, all adorned with stunning wood burning art.

And her niche in the horse riding community isn’t lost on her.

“It’s a form of art, but it’s art that’s meant to be enjoyed,” Minna said. “Especially in the horse community, we are willing to pay a lot of money for our horse stuff! Which is an automatic bonus that  I know what sort of area I’m trying to put myself into.

“Because I’ve got my own horse I can also channel what I know and what I love into developing this sort of wood burning business aimed at ‘horse type’ people. But I do want to try and branch out and I feel like I’m still a beginner in drawing.

“I’m still developing my own style.”

To check out Minna’s work, or to inquire about purchasing, follow her on Facebook at ‘Minna’s Creations – Pyrography & Paint’.

The Good Sammy Business Start-up Awards are a new category of award given out at the Good Sammy International Day of People with a Disability celebrations, held in December.

The awards are sponsored by Santos.

“The six young people who receive the Santos Good Sammy Business Start-up Award are the first winners in this inaugural category,” said Melanie Kiely, CEO of Good Sammy Enterprises. “We  believe that everyone regardless of physical ability, should have the opportunity to leverage their skills and make a meaningful contribution including by starting their own business. We are very proud of all their ideas and achievements and look forward to seeing them thrive – driven by their entrepreneurial spirit and a passion for their work.

“International Day of People with a Disability is an important day of celebration at Good Sammy Enterprises as we recognise all the people who are supported by Good Sammy Enterprises to find meaningful employment. Awarding scholarships is just one of the many ways we support clients and students in the pursuit of their working goals.”

Good Samaritan Enterprises has been invested in creating employment opportunities for people with a disability in Western Australia for 60 years, with a focus on reuse and recycling. With the help of 284 volunteers and 556 employees, they employ over 272 people with disabilities and have supported 787 people to achieve new heights in their working careers and to accomplish personal goals.

To read more about the award and some of the other recipients, click here.

For more information about Good Samaritan Enterprises and the services they offer, visit goodsamaritan.com.au

Heather Dowling

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