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Northern Ireland woman shortlisted for top Army award


Making a difference: June Burgess is in the running for a Soldiering On award

Making a difference: June Burgess is in the running for a Soldiering On award

Making a difference: June Burgess is in the running for a Soldiering On award

A woman from Northern Ireland has told how she is "honoured" at being shortlisted for a national award for her work in helping veterans through equine therapy.

June Burgess (53), from Comber, is in the running for a prestigious Soldiering On award, which honours the Armed Forces community - serving personnel, veterans, their families and organisations which support them. There are 13 categories in total, and June is among those short-listed in the Animal Partnership Award.

This is due to her work through Horses for People - a 'retirement home' for horses which provides horse-assisted workshops for wounded and sick veterans suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

June has been at the forefront of business throughout her life - being the director of several successful companies - including the development of the Fitzwilliam Hotel Belfast.

And in 2008, she was asked to mentor the Ulster Rugby team, which is where her fascination for life-coaching began.

Horses for People came about after June began exploring how people coped with pressures in life and unforeseen circumstances - and how, by "building your own strength", you can come out better on the other side.

The horse-assisted workshops are also open to others, including businesses, organisations and individuals.

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And despite being involved with horses for a huge part of her life - having ridden competitively at international level - she was astonished to learn about the positive impact equine therapy could have on veterans.

So in 2015, she began the programme for veterans called Back to Grazing, which has seen around 70 people take part so far, with a wide age range.

She said: "I trained up on how to deal with the coaching scenarios and set up the workshops focusing on corporate leadership, which I still do.

"Then I came up with the idea that always intrigued me - about veterans.

"I've seen statistics about how many veterans died by suicide each year and I thought I could put together something that might help some people."

June created a two-day workshop, which is followed by a six-week online programme.

There is no riding involved and it focuses on ground exercises and interaction.

"In the workshops, they do a series of exercises on the ground, there is no riding involved in it, and the horse reflects back exactly how we interact with other people," she said.

"So you are looking at communication, how other people see you and react, building leadership skills.

"It can give you a different angle or perspective on relationships in your life, how people interact with you and how you could interact differently back again and respond differently and get a different reaction.

"Taking control, really of your relationships, and the first thing you do is focus on building your awareness of yourself.

"And after that, it's all about how you can connect with the horses and the parallel of that is exactly the same way that you connect with people.

"For the veterans programme, Back to Grazing, it focuses on how you respond to situations and part of this is watching how the horses interact.

"They are very good at getting on with each other with the simplest bits of body language.

"They react appropriately and the danger is gone, they switch off and they go back to grazing again.

"As people, we don't. A situation happens, someone annoys us, we get upset and we hang on to it and we mull it over and it stays with us for days, weeks, months, years and that holds us back ultimately.

"So the idea was, we were trying to lessen the time it is for the veterans, to be able to switch off and be able to go back to grazing again."

She added: "It's not about riding a horse, it's about people.

"So it's all about how you are interacting with other people and the main thing is whatever you learn when you are there, and the insights that you get into your own behaviour, it's about how you apply that back to your everyday life."

Speaking about the award shortlist, June says she was honoured to be nominated and is humbled being in the company of her fellow nominees.

Overall, she says her biggest inspiration comes from those who come through the programmes - and are able to make changes to their life.

She recalled one man who it had affected deeply. "There was one gentleman who wrote to me after the course, a week later when he started on the six-week programme - he said it had transformed his life," she said.

"It taught him to look at things differently and changed his perspective on where he was and he felt a lot more settled.

"And his wife then wrote to me as well and thanked me, because she said she had noticed such a change in her husband and was so grateful he had come on the course and she had seen such a big change.

"That's lovely, because it's not just the person you are working with, everything that people are doing that comes from the workshops, it all reflects in the wider circle, their family, people you work with.

"And it's great to hear feedback from people other than the individuals themselves, saying they have noticed a change for the better."

You can vote for June Burgess in the Soldiering On awards at www.soldieringon.org/2019-award-voting/

The winners will be announced on April 5. For more information on the programme, visit horsesforpeople.co.uk

Belfast Telegraph

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