Original article STV Aberdeen By Laura Smith on Wednesday 3 September 2014
For the past five years, an Aberdeenshire charity has been helping ex-service personnel overcome psychological and emotional traumas of war through horsemanship.
In 1999, former Royal Marine Jock Hutchison set up HorseBack UK to introduce injured servicemen and women to horse riding and life in the countryside.
While it might seem an off-the-wall idea as far as rehabilitation techniques go, Jock says the psychological benefits of working with horses are both dramatic and quick.
“Our primary aim is to help our brothers and sisters in arms who have been hurt and need some extra support,” said Jock.
“Recovery is a lengthy process whether it’s mental, physical or both. If you’ve been a patient for a long time, confidence and self esteem is often stolen from you.
“To successfully have a second career you have to have both those things as well as connections in the civilian world.”
But how can involvement with horses helps amputees deal with their life changing injuries or those affected by PTSD overcome psychological traumas?
“We teach horsemanship, not riding,” Jock explained. “Horsemanship is leadership. It’s not like jumping on a motorbike – the horse has to trust you before it lets you do what you want.
“You need to earn that trust, and that process seems to be very therapeutic.”
To help physically and mentally traumatised servicemen and women recover their confidence, the charity runs week-long courses that include learning how to take care of horses and understanding basic animal psychology, as well as riding.
Crucially, the majority of staff at HorseBack UK are ex-armed forces and have undergone similar experience to those who come to the charity for help.
Jock said: “We run residential courses for eight people at a time. These are designed to be run by people who’ve taken same journey and have climbed out the dark.
“The people who work here are all ex-military. My two team leaders served as Royal Marine commanders from Arbroath. Both are amputees and have endured lengthy recoveries.
“Here we’re interested in what people can do, not their limitations. Take Jay Hare, his right leg below the knee was amputated and he still managed to climb Ben Nevis last week.”
This Saturday, the HorseBack UK will be open to the public during its Techfest event Horses For Heroes.
Members of the public will take a tour of the facilities in Aboyne, watch demonstrations with the horses and hear first-hand about the powerful effect rehabilitation using these animals can have.
Jock added: “Many of the 450 people we’ve worked with return as volunteer instructors and we also run workshops for oil company executives to teach them leadership skills.
“It’s incredible to see somebody who is disabled taught to become a leader and, in turn, use skills learned here and in the military to help executives and successfully transition into that industry.”
The event starts at 10am on Saturday, September 6. Admission is free but donations towards HorseBack UK are welcome.
If you can’t make it to the event but sound like to learn more about the work HorseBack UK does, visit their Facebook Page.