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  • Writer's pictureSecond Opinion Magazine

About Face: Turning from Turmoil to Transformation

A New Book by Toni Mattson, Trinity Equestrian Center

Toni Mattson and her team at Trinity Equestrian Center have worked with veterans for over ten years. They offer services to hundreds of vets, including thousands of therapy sessions, all of which are free to those struggling with the effects of their military services.

Veterans usually don’t want to discuss their traumatic service experiences, so Mattson’s team focuses on the relationship between vet and horse instead. Once the bond is solidified, that trust and connection usually expands to other important relationships in the veteran’s life. As the staff works with the vet, the vet gains the skills and confidence that things can and will get better.

For years Mattson considered writing a book about the work they do at Trinity. Her hope is that people might understand their work from the inside, and how that often changes the outside. About Face is a collection of stories based on true events of 12 veterans in Trinity’s Equine Assisted Therapy program.

The following is an excerpt from the chapter “Battle Buddy”:

“I can’t sleep, can’t eat, and sure can’t forget. They said it’d get better, but it’s not,” growled Duncan, a 29-year-old, four-time deployed Army veteran. “Every night I’m back in Afghanistan, on patrol with Karl.”

Karl was his only boyhood buddy and the best man at Duncan’s wedding.

“Karl demanded to take the lead that night, even though I lost the flip.” Duncan buried his face in his hands and continued, “He stopped, turned to me and whispered, ‘Did you hear that?’ And BOOM! There was an ear-splitting blast, and Karl was gone.”

His voice cracked and trailed off.

“I don’t just mean dead, I mean – his body was gone.” Duncan revved up, “I should’ve died, not him! It was my turn to go first. I killed him!”

Survivor’s guilt mixed with haunting nightmares serves up a dangerous cocktail. Their nightly visits torment many combat veterans, making them easy targets to seek amnesia from pills or alcohol.

Most don’t know, but horses experience all the emotions we humans do, except the pesky pair of guilt and shame. These two are the most dangerous carryovers for veterans. These two are the landmines that too often push them to the brink of suicide. These are what continues to take twenty-two of their lives every day.

Everyone has a story they’re struggling with. Our time with the horses helps the vet tell their story and process it in real time. The feelings and emotions they share helps paint the picture of their journey, their story. It’s a road map of what’s going on in their head and heart.

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