Command teams learn about resilience training at Kentucky Horse Park

1st Lt. Sarah Drerup, commander of the 299th Chemical Company, leads a horse during hands-on resiliency training at Central Kentucky Riding for Hope inside the Kentucky Horse Park, Lexington, Ky., Aug. 4, 2020. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Grace Begovich, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment).

By 1st Lt. Grace K. Begovich, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Leaders from the Kentucky National Guard took part in a resilience-training demonstration at the Kentucky Horse Park, in Lexington, Ky., Aug. 4. The purpose of the event was to raise awareness of the many resources available to units throughout the year and share best practices for conducting resilience training at the unit level.

The event was a collaboration between the KYNG Resilience Program, Central Kentucky Riding for Hope, and the Ready and Resilient Program from Fort Knox.

Per 2nd Lt. Brenton Abshire, resilience program coordinator for the KYNG, proper resiliency training “requires more than offering a three-day course. It takes active engagement with Soldiers and being included in an organized, monthly training plan that adds all resilience topics within a two-year period.”

To keep training activities engaging, the KYNG reached outside the organization and partnered with professionals that share the same passion for helping others.

Since 1981, CKRH has flourished with therapeutic activities. For approximately ten years, one program has focused on Veterans and has allowed the KYNG and the Department of Veterans Affairs to work with horses at the park.

Toby Cross, director of therapeutic programming at CKRH and lead clinician at the equine therapy center, provided the group with a few hands-on activities to show horse behavior and how equine therapy can relate to resiliency.

She showed leaders how to influence a horse’s action as each participant practiced guiding the horse around the arena and navigating through obstacles. After the events, she encouraged them to practice these lessons learned while at home and with the Soldiers they lead.

“I, as a therapist, am manipulating the environment to use that horse to work on specific goals for Veterans,” said Cross. “Most of our clientele come for the horsemanship piece and it’s inherently therapeutic.”

Veterans may need many avenues of approach for learning to cope with life’s difficulties, and CKRH offers this in a multi-faceted way. They have special projects—such as allowing a volunteer to help with basic, horse-related care—which enables an emotional connection with a horse and the volunteer. According to Cross, this connection may foster positive emotional healing.

The Army defines ‘resilience’ as the mental, physical, emotional, and behavioral ability to face and cope with adversity, adapt to change, recover, learn, and grow from setbacks.

Jon Walker, master resilience trainer and performance expert at Fort Knox, lead the resilience training discussion with the group of leaders and encouraged an active approach to face adversity.

“We do our best to train resilience skills to be used in actual life,” said Walker, the full-time resilience instructor. “If you are deliberate about building these skills, you build the intention that sparks growth in your Soldier’s resilience.”

Master Resilience Trainers, known as MRTs, serve as advisors to commanders and teach coping skills during training.

According to Walker, every Soldier—and every person—should learn the 14 life skills and six competencies taught in his resiliency courses. All topics and discussions during training are tailored to a Soldier’s daily life.

“A Soldier is a tactical athlete who has no off season,” said Walker, who studied in sports psychology. “It is constant training and playing to win. But, for a Soldier, it’s not a game.”

“If I had to recommend one or two ways a Soldier could be more resilient in daily life, I would start with my favorite two competencies that I teach—optimism and connection,” he said. “Most resiliency skills center on these competencies. By adding more optimism in your daily life, you learn to stay more positive. And, working on your relationships with those closest to you can allow you to share a particular burden or find the encouragement you need to thrive in any situation.”

Soldiers interested in learning more about resilience, or those with a passion for teaching others, should talk with their unit about becoming an MRT or resiliency training assistant (RTA).

For more information on Central Kentucky Riding for Hope, contact the center at 859-231-7066 or visit http://www.ckrh.org.

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