It’s All About the Connection: Equine Therapy for Veterans
In the business world, a connection can result in a new job, a great promotion, and surprising opportunities. In our world at Trinity Equestrian Center, connections between horse and human result in changed lives…sometimes even saved lives!
Veterans come to us for help for many reasons relating to their service experience. Most often it falls in the broad category of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While there are many demons that lurk under that cover, one that disrupts the very foundation of their recovery is emotional detachment. While in combat, it was a critical skill that not only helped them cope with all they had to do and see, but it may be the very reason they survived. Without emotions you can analyze the situation objectively, do what you need to, and complete your mission.
Here are some statements from veterans:
“I feel empty, hollow…totally unattached from my family and friends.”
“My wife says she thinks I don’t love her or care about the kids anymore…I can’t feel anything anymore.”
“Sometimes I hurt myself just to prove that I CAN feel something…anything.”
Our equine therapy starts with a guided walk with our veteran among a selected herd of horses called a Herd Walk. We encourage our veteran to just “be” not so much “do” anything. Relax, watch, listen, and just co-exist. During this time, it never fails: a connection is made between the veteran and a horse. We can see it develop right before our eyes.
Over the weeks of equine therapy, that deeply rooted, trained skill of shutting off one’s emotions begins to dissolve and is softened by the unabashed, unapologetic desire of the horse to connect at a very deep and meaningful level with the veteran. That connection grows into a relationship, one that is unconditional, non-judgmental, and surprisingly welcomed. The veteran’s increased desire to connect with the horse and the liberating feelings that come from that connection slowly translate into a desire to reconnect with family, friends, and life. It gives them hope. Hope that things can get better, in fact will get better. Hope changes everything. It saves lives.
After only a few weeks in our program, one of our vets shared that he had carried with him a suicide note for years prior to joining us for therapy. At the beginning of his fifth week’s session and with tears in his eyes, he shared the existence of the suicide note and that he had torn it up. Something he never thought he would or could do. He said, “I don’t need it anymore. I don’t wanna die, I wanna live! Lilly (his horse) changed everything for me.”
We go many different directions with our equine therapy and work on any issue the veteran brings to us or that is discovered on the journey. It is an incredibly effective method that gives them hope and saves lives.
Since 2009, Trinity Equestrian Center (TEC), a non-profit oganization has provided nearly 1,800 FREE therapy sessions to 140 veterans and their families who are struggling with the effects of PTSD and traumatic brain injury. With equine assisted psychotherapy, therapeutic riding, natural horsemanship, and prayer therapy that collectively produce an amazing 83 percent success rate