One of our veterans said, after his first course was over, ‘No one here judges you.’
It’s such a simple sentence. It’s such a profound fact.
We learnt this from working with our horses. If you want to encourage a horse and build up a horse’s confidence and invite that horse to be its best self, you don’t judge it. You don’t slap on labels, like nappy or naughty or mulish or mareish. You listen to what the horse is telling you, and you adjust accordingly.
Judging is not useful. It doesn’t help a horse to be better and it doesn’t help a human to be better. At HorseBack, we are all about the useful. We like what works.
So when a veteran comes up the drive, we see the person in front of us, as she or he is in that moment. We do need to know a bit of their history, but we don’t assume that because someone has a limb missing or got scrambled in the brain they can’t do stuff. We give them the same respect we give to our horses. We see them as complete, complex, sentient beings who have skills and needs and emotions and dreams.
Because of this way of thinking, because we don’t judge, we make a positive assumption: that they will be able to do all the things that they don’t quite believe of themselves. We might have a veteran who is experiencing such acute anxiety that he thinks he can’t even pick out a horse’s hoof. We know he has that capacity, because we’ve seen our methods work a thousand times, and we have faith that by the end of the week he will not only be picking out hooves like a pro, he’ll be riding around in a Western saddle like a cowboy. And so he does.
We don’t push our veterans ruthlessly, but we do encourage them and support them to move out of their comfort zone. The irony is that what they feel as their comfort zone is often very uncomfortable indeed. That place of retreat often has loneliness and despair and shame in it. They’ve gone into it in a desperate attempt to keep themselves safe, but they don’t feel safe. By asking them to step out into the realms of possibility, we give them the chance to feel free and strong again, to remember what it was like when they had agency, when they had confidence in their own skills.
We know that all that is still there in them. It just got covered up with rubble. The labels, the judgements, are no more than debris. Here, they get a chance to clear all that away and rediscover the human who is beneath.
We have discovered that how you approach a human can create a new reality. We learned this from our horses too. If you march in thinking that this person can’t do this, or can’t do that, they won’t. There’s the crackle of negative energy in the air. People pick up on the vibes, the body language, the minute facial expressions. We always believe that the people who come here will be able to shine, to find themselves, to get on that horse, literally and metaphorically. As we always say, we see the possible, rather than dwelling on the impossible.
Judgment is a necessary part of life. We humans need to be able to judge whether something is good or bad, pointless or necessary. But quick, cheap, careless judgments are fatal to human flourishing. At HorseBack, we strive to open our minds, to see the best, to find the solution to every problem. We don’t focus on what happened to you before you came here. We want to know who you are, right now. We want to know who you can become.