By Justin Brooks
Was it really only four weeks ago that Horses for Health launched in Yorkshire at the Wentworth Estate? Time has flown but I'm still buoyed up by my memories of the South and West Yorks Mounted Units showcasing their amazing service horses. Seeing the joy on both the police riders and their horses when they got the opportunity to canter along the gallops at Doncaster Racecourse was something really special. I loved seeing the units engaging with the public and seeing how the horses themselves enabled the breaking down of barriers with adults and children alike venturing forward to ask questions and understand what was going on.
A real stand-out for me was when I learned that the service horses could actually find the change of environment quite stressful. We always think about being in busy urban areas as a stress factor but for these police horses their training has been based on noise, commotion and crowds. Being in the wide open spaces and trotting or cantering was alien to them - but they did love it!
For me personally, I was struck by how I was impacted simply by having a structure in planning & organising for the meets with the Units, Claire Williams from BETA and Des Payne of the BHS. Just by talking openly about mental health with each of them made me realise that the thing we all had in common was our horses. They literally brought us together, got us talking and engaging with each other with no inhibitions or expectations. I've met some lovely people: Mel Riley, our North East Co-Ordinator with whom I went to Raby Castle to meet with the lovely Northumbrian Mounted Unit, and of course her gorgeous boy Benson. Then also Sandra Murphy from Equidiet and BAME Equine Rural Focus Group (BERF). I've come to realise that these last few weeks have been a pilgrimage and a reminder of how how much I need to have a focus in my life. It's been humbling to have people see strengths in me which I forgot I had and I've been honoured that lots of Horses for Health Facebook members have messaged me asking what I'm doing and when I'll be posting updates! I've even had members of the Mounted Units messaging saying they've been following the activity! How cool is that?! Fundamentally, the recognition that our horses can unite us and bring people from all walks of life together for a common cause has been a real eye-opener. I've come to realise that I took my own two horses, Woody and Gerry, for granted somewhat and hadn't appreciated just how much they help me mentally. When I spoke to Steve Connolly at RDA Ackworth who hadn't been able to go back to the Centre following the loss of his wife, Carol really brought home to me that these majestic equines soothe our souls and ease our minds without us even realising. It's been a journey and been quite tough at times - long days, lots of calls, terrible weather... but so worthwhile. To all equestrians, your time to shine and be part of this is here...time to step up and repay the debt we owe our horses!