The HorseBack challenge.

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The horses at HorseBack are not dozy old riding school ponies. They are serious horses. Although they are rigorously schooled and comprehensively educated for this work, there is nothing push-button about them. They are all individual characters, and they sometimes have their moments.

One of them had such a moment this morning. He did not do quite what his rider had asked, and his veteran had to sit tight and look sharp. The veteran kept calm and brought his horse back to him and dealt with the unexpected with quick thinking. For those with acute Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, the unexpected can feel catastrophic. The unexpected is one of the things that many of them fear. Part of the challenge on a HorseBack course is to face those moments where everything does not go like clockwork, draw on deep resources, stay focused, and deal with the situation. It is a vitally important part of the recovery process.

One of the things that happens to veterans who have had to leave the services because of life-changing injury, whether physical or mental, is that they lose confidence. They used to be able to do incredibly difficult and demanding tasks without thinking about it. They were accustomed to life and death situations. Suddenly, the body and the mind which could take all this in stride are not working in the old way, and this can feel frightening, demoralising and isolating.

We lay down challenges at HorseBack to remind these veterans that they still have the right stuff. We build their confidence and restore their knowledge of their old skills by taking them, just a little, out of their comfort zone. Horses need to know that they have a human on whom they can rely, whom they can trust to keep them safe. The evolutionary biology of the horse is all about survival, the same life and death axis that those who have served know so well. These equines are looking for certainty and confidence from their riders, and this transmits itself down the reins. This is a huge element of the HorseBack challenge, as the course participants learn to leave everything else behind and concentrate on the best part of themselves. As the veterans rise to this challenge, they often surprise themselves by proving what they can do. They remind themselves that their courage and resourcefulness and capability are still there, and this reminder is a great part of what puts a smile back on their faces.

As we often say here: this is not a trekking holiday. It’s hard work and a sharp learning curve. There are sometimes surprises along the way. Yet, on every course, week in and week out, we see veterans rising to the occasion, touching peaks of success that they might not have expected. We have faith in them, and they reward us by rediscovering their faith in themselves.



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