HorseBack UK empowers young people

December 11, 2023
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HorseBack UK Gradution Day poster

Highland RFCA attended HorseBack UK’s third Graduation Day of its 12-week Youth Development Programme in Aboyne on 23 November.

HorseBack UK is a charity set up to empower Service personnel and Veterans suffering from life-changing injuries and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and to aid them on their road to recovery. The success of the first five years of courses for military personnel has allowed HorseBack UK to extend its remit to be able to focus on the wider community. It aims to restore confidence, self-respect and a sense of purpose to ensure a successful transition into the civilian world. The Equine Assisted Learning Centre delivers nationally recognised and accredited personal development programmes that encourage participants to acquire new coping strategies, life skills and lasting resilience.

It is an Armed Forces Covenant signatory and 2023 Defence Employer Recognition Scheme (ERS) Silver Award recipient. HorseBack UK first signed the Armed Forces Covenant in May 2020. The Covenant is a commitment to ensure those who serve or have served in the Armed Forces, and their families, are treated fairly. The Covenant sets companies on the path to have their pledge recognised through the Employer Recognition Scheme. This scheme incorporates prestigious Bronze, Silver and Gold Awards, granted in recognition of their pledge to support Defence and the Armed Forces community.

HorseBack is now in partnership with The Prince’s Trust to deliver their Team Programme. The Youth Development Programme has been a shining success since 2022. The aim is to inspire young people between the ages of 16-25 who have a variety of challenges under the umbrella of wellbeing. The programme was designed by Prince’s Trust Team Programme Coordinator, Richard ‘Taff’ Teague, who worked off the foundational HorseBack principles.

Taff is a Veteran with years of experience in team-building and leadership skills. He joined the Territorial Army in 1979 and first enlisted in the Regular Army in 1984. After retiring at the rank of Major in 2013, he was offered one of the Company Commanders’ posts in Aberdeen University Officers’ Training Corps. He eventually took over the Quartermaster Full Time Reserve Service at Aberdeen & Tayforth Officers’ Training Regiment. After over 42 years of service, he retired from the military again and joined HorseBack UK.

On his third Youth Development Programme, Taff said: “The horses are critical to what we do and to rewire the brain. We want to work with, not just for the community. It’s been an absolute pleasure to work with these young people. They should and can do more. I see the success when the young people tell me later that they’ve gotten a job, which makes it all worthwhile.”

Taff speaking
Taff delivering a presentation for the guests.

During the life-changing course, young people learn the importance of resilience, teamwork, community, environment, and wellbeing. It consists of two weeks of residential team-building activities, two weeks of work placement, two weeks of working as a team on a community project, and six weeks of helping on site. The participants work with the horses each day, developing unique bonds that enhance confidence and self-esteem.

The courses incorporate the following qualifications:

  • The Prince’s Trust Team Programme
  • SQA Level 4 Personal Development Through Horsemanship
  • SQA Level 4 Mental Health and Wellbeing
  • John Muir Award (Discovery Level).

HRFCA’s Regional Employer Engagement Director Ray Watt and Communications Officer Annushka Bholai attended the graduation event to witness the tangible success and after value of the course. The participants’ family and friends were delighted to celebrate how far the young people had come and their achievements.

Taff, Ray and Chris with a horse
From left: Taff, Ray and Rear Admiral (Retired) Chris with one of HorseBack UK’s residents, Apollo.

President and Co-Founder, Jock Hutchison, is an ex-Marine who served at 45 Commando in Arbroath as well as a helicopter pilot for the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Marines. He said: “This course epitomises our efforts here. By leaning on our pillars – community, purpose, and empowerment – we reconnect people who have become disconnected. The young people now have the tools to take on any adversity. That is why we’re here; to serve and help our community.”

In 2020, the HorseBack team developed a wellbeing programme for NHS and care home staff. It is currently being delivered throughout NHS Grampian, a Covenant signatory and ERS Silver Award holder in the HRFCA-area, after a successful pilot scheme for their staff in 2022. We Care oversaw the work with support from Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professionals Directorate. The NHS now recognises HorseBack UK as a wellbeing provider. Jock said: “We’re now an official partner of the NHS. It’s all about empowering the young people you’ve seen here today and our local community. You’re all part of the solution, so thank you so much for being here.”

Jock addressing the guests
Jock thanking the young people and their guests at the end of the event.

Rear Admiral (Retired) Chris Hockley CBE DL, Chief Executive Officer of The MacRobert Trust and Deputy Lieutenant of Aberdeenshire, presented The Prince’s Trust qualified certificates. The MacRobert Trust is a Covenant signatory and 2023 ERS Gold Award recipient in the HRFCA-area. Rear Admiral (Retired) Chris first presented the previous course attendees’ certificates.

Then the latest course attendees received their certificates.

The five course attendees, who come from all over the Royal Deeside and surrounding areas from Stonehaven to Clatt, delivered presentations on their journeys. They detailed the different phases of the course and what they learned throughout the unforgettable experience. For the community project, the group decided to winterise the HorseBack UK site and the local area to give back to the local community and Veterans. They also helped to refurbish the Royal Deeside Railway, built two garden benches for Aboyne Men’s Shed, made detouring paths with Aboyne Paths and Tracks Group following Storms Babet and Ciarán, and cleaned every registered war grave in the vicinity. With the encouragement of Taff’s military mindset, they also took part in mountain biking, orienteering, and camping out in Glen Tanar to fundraise nearly £1100.

Five course attendees delivering their presentations
From left: Bethany, Tara, Crystal, Geraldine and Will showcasing their new presentation skills.

“This course was fantastic, and I would do it all again.”
– Bethany

“We learned to trust ourselves and the horses. Equine Assisted Learning improves wellbeing and helps with coping with difficult situations.”
– Tara

“The community project wasn’t about us; it was more about helping the community. We stayed at HorseBack UK first, which is working for the community, and then we worked with people at the railway.”
– Geraldine

“To sum it all up on behalf of all of us, we have learned how to face problems. Day by day, we’ve built confidence and a good work ethic. We’re better prepared for the unpredictability of life. Each of us has really benefitted from the chance to face our fears. This is only the beginning, we’re just getting started.”
– Will

Course Director, Jay Hare, served in the Royal Marines Commandos for over 14 years after which he was medically discharged in 2014 due to life-changing injuries. He is also a Royal Marines Support Network Officer for Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. He said: “We have worked with hundreds of schools in different areas. We’ve got a big reach out there. The Youth Development Programme builds resilience and self-esteem as well as reduces the anxiety of the youngsters who come through here. They can do anything as long as they put their minds to it.”

After the presentations and speeches, the guests moved to the Indoor Riding Arena where they were wowed with a demonstration of the young people working with the horses. Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, Emma Hutchison, delivers the equine skills side of the courses and is very much involved in all aspects of running the charity. The Indoor Riding Area was officially opened by Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal in 2015.

The event concluded with a surprise musical performance and Highland dancing. After the completion of the course, the young people leave with a peer support system.

HorseBack UK is grateful for the continued support of its Patron, Her Majesty The Queen Consort.

Find out more about the Employer Recognition Scheme.

Find out more about HorseBack UK.

Find out more about The Prince’s Trust.

To find out how you can support the Armed Forces, contact HRFCA’s Regional Employer Engagement Directors Roy McLellan at [email protected] or Ray Watt at [email protected].

2023 Defence Employer Recognition Scheme Silver Award logo
HorseBack UK logo