Horses help­ing vet­eran re­cover

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The Press and Journal (Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire) - - FRONT PAGE - BY BEN HENDRY

AGulf War vet­eran liv­ing with trau­matic me­mories of the front line is re­build­ing his life with the help of forces char­i­ties – and an un­ex­pected bond with horses.

Ste­vie Carle fought in Iraq nearly 30 years ago, but still ex­pe­ri­ences flash­backs to the hor­rors he wit­nessed dur­ing com­bat.

The for­mer Royal Engi­neer from Ban­chory in Aberdeen­shire turned to drink and drugs af­ter ex­it­ing the forces as he tried to bury painful thoughts from his time in the Army.

And the 49-year-old has been un­able to work since be­ing di­ag­nosed with post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der (PTSD) in 2011.

He re­mains prone to flash­backs even in the most in­no­cent of sur­round­ings and har­row­ing im­ages of con­flict dis­turb his sleep.

He said: “I can walk into a bar or shop I have been in 100 times and some­thing will trig­ger a dark episode.

“I still can’t sit in a strange place with my back to any­one. I al­ways have to see what is com­ing to­wards me.

“The dreams are so vivid. Some nights, I close my eyes and it is like be­ing in a cinema.”

In con­trast to the tra­di­tional im­age of a Christ­mas din­ner, which con­jures thoughts of fam­i­lies mer­rily pulling crack­ers over a roast turkey, Mr Carle will be eat­ing alone.

He says he will know his meal is ready when he “hears the ping” of the mi­crowave.

Mr Carle grew up in Aberdeen, and be­gan a seven-year stint in the forces af­ter his 16th birth­day.

The first Gulf War con­flict be­gan in 1990 and ended when Iraqi forces were driven from Kuwait in 1991. It re­sulted in the loss of 47 UK soldiers dur­ing 98 hours of ground war­fare.

Mr Carle took on var­i­ous jobs upon re­turn­ing to civil­ian life, in­clud­ing stints off­shore and in oil in­dus­try of­fices.

But the trauma he ex­pe­ri­enced in the Mid­dle East con­tin­ued to haunt him as mount­ing mental health problems caused his mar­riage to crum­ble and he tried to take his own life.

Mr Carle said: “I have sur­vivor’s guilt and am still strug­gling with anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion. PTSD af­fects your en­tire life, it is de­bil­i­tat­ing.”

It was only af­ter his “hugely sup­port­ive” GP re­ferred him to Help For He­roes that Mr Carle be­gan to piece his life back to­gether.

Mr Carle says it is thanks to its Hid­den Wounds ser­vice – which of­fers strug­gling vet­er­ans sup­port via the in­ter­net, phone or face-to­face – that he is still here.

The vet­eran has now found so­lace in an un­likely pas­time, by be­com­ing an ac­com­plished horse­man.

Mr Carle was pointed in the di­rec­tion of Horse­back UK in 2012. The char­ity, which is based near Aboyne, has re­ceived more than £1 mil­lion in fund­ing from Help For He­roes over the last decade.

Af­ter over­com­ing some ini­tial reser­va­tions about the an­i­mals he struck up a bond with them – and with the other vet­er­ans there.

He said: “I have made friends for life. It is good to meet oth­ers who un­der­stand what you are go­ing through and share your sense of hu­mour.

“It is very em­pow­er­ing work­ing with horses, they all have their own in­di­vid­ual per­son­al­i­ties and em­pa­thy.

“They don’t care about the past, they are just re­ly­ing on you to look af­ter them.”

He is now a qual­i­fied men­tor and am­bas­sador for the pro­gramme, and also vol­un­teers with Aberdeen Rid­ing Club – which he finds “re­ally re­ward­ing”.

Mr Carle says that his PTSD di­ag­no­sis was a “eureka” mo­ment where the problems which had been plagu­ing him sud­denly made sense.

The vet­eran ac­knowl­edges that the bat­tle re­mains con­stant, but says the sup­port he has re­ceived from Help For He­roes – and horses – has strength­ened his re­solve to con­tinue the fight.

He said: “I have learned good cop­ing mech­a­nisms and now find I can punch through it.

“If just one per­son reads my story and gets the help they de­serve, this has been worth it.”

“PTSD af­fects your en­tire life, it is de­bil­i­tat­ing”

Pho­to­graphs by Heather Fowlie

EM­PA­THY: Ste­vie Carle lets Twiggy lean on him.

Me­mories of the trau­mas he ex­pe­ri­enced in the Mid­dle East con­tinue to haunt Ste­vie, seen here in Saudi Ara­bia

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