By Air Force Staff Sgt. Frank J. Casciotta, 302nd Airlift Wing
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Air Force 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 facility here volunteering with an equine therapy program designed to help veterans and active-duty service members overcome their post-traumatic stress disorder by working with horses.
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. “Any time there’s an opportunity to help someone, I’m there,” she said. “I was just honored and excited to get involved in another equine therapy class.”
During an equine therapy session, patients spend time grooming and performing simple exercises with horses. As a volunteer, it’s Fierro’s job to ensure the safety of both horse and patient.
“Horses are such special creatures,” Fierro said. “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.”
Connecting With Service Members
As an Air Force reservist, Fierro brings a special dynamic to her work 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 [in the] 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,” Moss said. “That makes a big difference in making an initial connection with patients.”
Fierro’s passion for horses started when she was a child living at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England. Her mother, who is British, took Fierro with her to the stable, where she worked caring for horses.
“I think that’s where my nurturing side comes from,” Fierro said of her mother. “My mother was such a caregiver, and some of that rubbed off on me.”