At a recent event in North Carolina designed to help military veterans integrate back into civilian life, British Police force veteran, former military spouse and now animal behaviorist, Anna Twinney realized a two decade old dream.
“When I came to the United States in the 1990s, I was truly following my destiny. I believe the British Police Force is one of the best in the world. Communication skills are paramount as the British Police Forces don’t carry weapons. My dream was to help all police Forces learn natural horsemanship and thus improve victim relationships by elevating communication with victims so they don’t feel purely like another number ,” she explained. Twinney served on the British Police force for nearly eight years and believes strongly in giving back through military or civil service. She knew that learning the horse’s language would not only enhance officers communication skills but it would also help them personally through any difficult experiences or traumas.
Though her dream to help Police Officers seemed achievable, Twinney quickly learned that even mounted units were on the “back burners” in police departments and there were no funds available to enhance the horsemanship skill set of the mounted officers let alone interpersonal skills for all officers. Twinney began teaching her trade to others with the thoughts of working with her colleagues at the police force still fresh on her mind.
Years later, when the non-profit organization, Hearts for Heroes reached out to Anna to facilitate the equine portion of a six day event for veterans, she was thrilled to accept.
“The goal was to avoid any triggers and allow the veterans to see what the horses could do. I knew it’d be helpful to let them see the difference between a partner and a tool. A partner has a heartbeat and it’s ok to make compassionate connections without attachment.,” Anna explained.
Anna’s unique experiences, her knowledge of horses, her own police force training and even her own PTSI (issues) helps her to know how to keep the veterans away from the “flight or freeze” response, which is comparable in horses and humans.
“It was exceptionally rewarding to have participants tell me that their sessions with the horses helped them more than 30 years of counseling, Anna explained. “When someone announces they have found the missing component in their dog training and will begin to partner them with Veterans it brings tears to your eyes.”
Participants in the event ranged from active duty military, those recently back from Iraq and Afghanistan and Vietnam veterans.
Friend and colleague Susan Solomon joined Anna to assist with the natural horsemanship clinic. Susan, a ROTH trainer, spent six years in law enforcement as a police officer and now as a licensed professional counselor, has worked with military members and their families traveling to different installations over the world for past 6 years. “Seeing the veterans interact with the horses and going from fear with stiffness in their movements to engaging with several horses relaxed with a huge smile on their face is priceless.” Susan realized that some of the veterans return with a discomfort for society and difficulty fitting in, so seeing them engage and smile not only with the horses but also the people around is a clear indication that the horses not only help the veteran become relaxed with them but that this also transfers to those people around them.
Anna and Susan hope to partner again in the near future to help veterans through horsemanship.