VETERANS MULTI-PURPOSE CENTER’S EQUINE ASSISTED THERAPEUTIC PROGRAM
Our program differs from most other Equine programs for veterans because it involves both the veteran, and the family. We also include programs for civilian adults and children with special needs.
During their time at the ranch, veterans, families, civilians and children spend quality time in the outdoors doing a variety of activities. From Equine Activities to boating and fishing on our 24’ pontoon boat, to BBQ parties, Birthday Parties, shooting range, horse shoes, and archery the emphasis is always on individuals, the family and the children by strengthening bonds between family members. These experiences enhance the therapeutic process by bringing everyone together in a low-stress environment.
We also offer therapeutic riding for veterans and individuals with physical or mental challenges to improve muscle tone, motor development, balance, posture, coordination, and overall emotional well-being. Our Riders experience a sense of independence, that they may not be able to experience anywhere else.
How Equine Therapy Promotes Emotional Healing
Equine Therapeutic Activities are used as tools for veterans and Civilians to gain self-understanding and emotional growth. It recognizes the bond between animals and humans and the potential for emotional healing that can occur when a relationship is formed between the two species. In some cases, the horses are not ridden, and usually are not tethered in the arena, but allowed to roam free. Exercises can be as simple as giving the client instruction on how to approach the horse and gain their trust or actually, work with the horse in the obstacle arena.
The learning and mastery of a new skill (horsemanship) enhances a person’s confidence in their ability to tackle difficult challenges, such as recovery, and leads to improved self-esteem. It has the potential to reinforce things the person already does well and shows them they are capable of approaching new challenges and succeeding, which serves as a building block for all other therapy in which they may be involved. Working with animals is part of a holistic approach that removes the coldness of clinical solutions previously offered as we learn more about the effects of persistent and sustained conflict on those who volunteer to serve. Including the family as part of all of these efforts, if only to witness the progress their loved one is making as part of their recovery, works toward the healing of the military member and their families.
Learning to communicate and achieve harmony with a large animal promotes renewed feelings of efficacy. A motivated ‘I can do it!’ replaces feelings of helplessness and discouragement, by empowering the person to take on new challenges in other areas of recovery.
Interacting with horses helps participants to develop a more realistic view of themselves through awareness of their size in relation to the horse. This is especially important in helping people with communication issues as well as those with interpersonal problems.
Horses’ sensitivity to non-verbal communication assists people in developing a greater awareness of their emotions, the non-verbal cues that they may be communicating, and the important role of non-verbal communication in relationships.
Learning to trust an animal as large, powerful, and potentially intimidating as a horse aids in the development or restoration of trust for those whose capacity for trust has eroded due to difficult life experiences such as overseas separation, spending time in a war zone, and experiencing the trauma of injury or death of close friends. The shared experiences of military personnel, particularly those who have deployed and served together under combat conditions, and particularly those who have experienced the severe trauma of the injury or death of comrades, creates the potential for many social and psychological difficulties that are further complicated by the need to control one’s emotions in order to continue with the mission at hand. Often the consequences of these social and psychological difficulties do not manifest themselves until military personnel complete their deployment and begin to reintegrate with their families. The isolation that can result because the family of the military member cannot relate to the circumstances, they experienced during the deployment can create trust issues, anxiety, anger, etc.
Grooming activities and other types of care for a specific horse helps service members to put aside the self-absorbed focus of their problems, such as depression and stress. This allows them to redirect their attention and interests outwardly toward safe and caring interactions, which works to build relationships based upon trust and mutual respect.
Many studies of human-animal interaction indicate that contact with animals significantly reduces anxiety levels and the physiological results of stress. Some are initially afraid of horses, but horses’ genuine affection for humans allay this fear, which helps to mitigate anxiety issues.
For many individuals with PTSD, the feeling of being rejected by, and different from, other people are a common occurrence. The horse’s unconditional acceptance works to invite those facing PTSD back into the fellowship of family and life thereby diminishing their isolation
Due to lack of exposure with large and powerful animals some are initially concerned that they will do something embarrassing while learning and interacting with a horse. However, they quickly learn through observation and interaction with these amazing creatures the comfort human interaction brings to the horses which transmits to those who work with them. Fears of embarrassment in public are reduced and self-acceptance is increased.
Many individuals with PTSD are socially isolated or withdrawn, which reduces their ability to interact with others and to practice effective interpersonal skills. A positive relationship with a horse is often a first, safe step toward practicing the social skills needed to initiate closer relationships with people.
Communicating effectively with a horse requires the rider to demonstrate assertiveness, direction, and initiative which are important skills in building and sustaining relationships.