This week, as the first course of the season gets underway, we reflect on our first mentoring programme, which was completed last week.

The idea of turning veterans with life-changing injuries and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder into mentors for other veterans facing the same challenges is an old one at HorseBack. If you ask our own Jay Hare, who was the team leader on this project, how long he’s been working on it, he will look you in the eye and say, rather drily: ‘Three years.’ That’s how long it took to work out every detail of the programme, get the logistics in place, find the right people for the job, and generally get all of our ducks in a row. That is the reason we are so excited about it; we’ve been waiting for this for a while.

HorseBack co-founder Jock Hutchison says it is the single most important thing that HorseBack has ever done. This is because it absolutely embodies all our core beliefs. To help someone, you get them to help someone else. The best people to support you on your journey are those who have pulled themselves out of the darkness. If veterans are struggling, give them a mission.

The restoration of mission is possibly the most vital of all the HorseBack core beliefs. Becoming a mentor is a mission of the highest order.

When veterans first arrive on a HorseBack course, they may be in ten different kinds of a state. Some will not have left the house for months; some are so riven with hyper-vigilance that they can hardly concentrate; some find it almost impossible to speak. There are men and women dealing with severe and chronic pain. On top of all this, somehow someone persuaded them that what they should really be doing is working with a horse. Then they see the half-ton flight animal and wonder what on earth they have got themselves into.

Almost everyone who has been on our courses talks about the trepidation of that first arrival. The mentors are now trained to identify and deal with all those kind of anxieties. The programme, devised by Jay Hare who is an expert in leadership, horsemanship and communication, is incredibly nuanced and complex and profound. The mentors have learnt everything from first aid to how to recognise the signs of a vulnerable person who is struggling. They are now skilled in the art of listening, they understand all the facets of good communication, from bearing to tone. (One day, we will write down everything Jay Hare knows about these subjects and it will fill a book.)

What was particularly satisfying for Jay is that so much of what he was passing on already fitted in with the veterans’ existing skill set, from their years of service. We find that many of our veterans often forget or even deny that they have these skills; watching those talents being reawakened is one of our enduring pleasures.
So, by the end of the week, we had a group of men who had a new and important mission. They all stood tall, grown in confidence and capability. They are now emblematic of everything we at HorseBack believe in. We can’t wait to see them come back over the season and begin their work.

And Jay Hare, who was the one who led the team on this programme? He is so modest and understated that he will not take praise for himself. If you ask him how he feels about the success of the programme, he will at once start explaining an aspect of leadership that fascinates him, or telling you about Tuckman’s group development model or Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This is so interesting that you get side-tracked, until you remember the original question.

‘But how do you feel about it?’ This time, there was a burst of praise for the veterans who had worked so well and come so far.

Eventually, under stern questioning, Jay admitted: ‘It’s a good start. We have a good foundation now. We have a base from which we can move on.’
‘Yes,’ he says, as the spring sunshine dazzles over the blue hills, ‘I do have a sense of satisfaction. Yes, I do.’