Reservist helps treat PTSD with horses

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Frank Casciotta
  • 302nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

There are veterans and active duty members suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder every day and one reservist, here, is aiding in their recovery by combining her two passions – helping people and horses.

Tech. Sgt. Tanesha Fierro, an aviation resource manager assigned to the Air Force Reserve’s 34th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, spends one night a week at the Norris Penrose Events Center in Colorado Springs volunteering with an equine therapy program designed to help veterans and active duty members overcome their PTSD.

In 2016 Fierro was volunteering with a therapeutic riding program for children with disabilities when she was approached by another volunteer who asked her if she would be interested in a similar program working with Soldiers and Airmen suffering from PTSD.

“Anytime there’s an opportunity to help someone, I’m there,” Fierro said. “I was just honored and excited to get involved in another equine therapy class.”

During an equine, or horse, therapy session, patients spend time grooming and performing simple exercises with the horses. As a volunteer, it’s Fierro’s job to ensure the safety of both horse and patient.

“Horses are such special creatures,” said Fierro. “They can sense if you’re hiding something and people with PTSD seem to be guarded. The horses pick up on that and won’t cooperate until that shield comes down, which is what makes this so effective.”

As an Air Force reservist, Fierro brings a special dynamic with her when working with other service members and veterans.

“Given that we are working with Soldiers, the fact that she wears the uniform gives her instant credibility with them,” said Bill Reed, who has been a volunteer with the program for more than a decade. “A few sessions ago, there was one pretty tight-lipped fellow struggling with some of the concepts. Well, she started working with him and it turned out they had the same job except he was Army. Miles of his barriers fell down right then. He got better after that.”

Though having a military background helps Fierro connect with patients, Dr. Kelly Moss, a clinical psychologist who oversees the sessions, also credits her temperament.  

“She is always very calm, kind and even-tempered, which is why I think she works so well,” said Moss. “That makes a big difference in making an initial connection with patients.”

Fierro’s passion for horses started when she was a young child living on Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England. Her mother, an Englishwoman, took Fierro with her to the stable where she worked caring for horses

“I think that’s where my nurturing side comes from,” said Fierro of her mother. “My mother was such a caregiver and some of that rubbed off on me.”