Anissa Arnett was on her way to the National Snaffle Bit Association World Championship Show in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to compete in one of the two the Heroes on Horses classes, when she got a phone call from her home barn: Her normal mount had been injured; would she be able to ride another horse at the show?
Anissa said yes to the challenge, and after a quick 10-minute warm-up on Zips Dandy Sensation — a horse she’d never ridden before — she headed into the class.
“I’d competed last year, so I knew what to expect, but I really didn’t know whether Dandy would take to me or listen to me,” Anissa said. “Fortunately, he did. He’s an old pro, so we were fine — and I guess the class went well.”
In fact, it went extremely well, as Anissa beat out 22 other competitors to take home the World Champion trophy for the SUCCEED-sponsored Heroes on Horses Western Walk-Trot – Independent Rider class. Not bad for a woman who says she had “only really basic exposure to horses growing up,” thanks to a farm owned by her great-grandmother, and occasional trail rides when she could afford them.
Anissa, who now rides with the Wylie, Texas, based Equest Therapeutic Horsemanship, hadn’t ridden in years when she ran into a fellow veteran at the VA hospital who was passing around flyers advertising the Veterans Program, called Hooves for Heroes, designed to fit the unique needs of veterans. At the time, Anissa had just had surgery on her knee. She was still on crutches when she first turned up at the barn in 2013.
“I couldn’t even ride when I first came to the barn, but the folks at Equest supported and watched me through rehab until I was walking on my own without assistance,” she says. “Being around horses and people that love horses is like having another level of understanding. All the people I’ve come across are very open and inviting, and nothing is ever forced on you; at Equest, you’re encouraged to do what you need to do, whether that’s riding or just being there.”
For Anissa, who worked in Military Intelligence for the Army from 1988-1992 and who still deals with PTSD, that support means a lot. But she also says being around the horses at Equest is its own type of therapy.
“Horses are kind of like people; they have their own personalities,” she says. “You get to know whether a horse is going to be a certain way; spirited or laid-back, or something else — it’s almost an unspoken connection, but when I’m out there and grooming or feeding or watering, it just feels like I’m helping them they’re helping me, and we’re both benefiting.”
After getting out of the Army, Anissa went to the University of Maryland and got a degree in accounting. Now she balances work with her time out at one of Equest’s two locations in Texas.
“I love everything about being out at the barn, but I really love the trail rides,” she says. “When you’re riding in the arena, you feel more limited and I think the horses do too — but when you’re out on the trail, the horses can look around and take in the sights just as much as I do while we’re out exploring.”