There’s something special about the moment a 2,800-pound draft horse connects with you that requires you to be completely yourself. It is the moment that kicks off a true, honest and humbling relationship that makes you feel like the animal is bonding with your spirit or soul.
Those bonding moments continue as the relationship begins to pull the “real you” out again after years of either having lost it or hiding it as you mask the pain from the experiences of war and violence, a problem especially apparent among the tactical professions.
Evidence-based treatments for service-related health conditions such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and traumatic brain injury (TBI) are not effective for all veterans. The complex constellation of cognitive, emotional, and physical impairments experienced by veterans with polytraumatic injuries poses significant barriers to successful community reintegration.
Veterans with TBI, PTSD, and/or depression experience difficulties with establishing supportive and close connections with others. veterans with polytraumatic injuries experience limited engagement in community-based activities, thereby compromising their successful transition to civilian life.
Veterans report that cognitive and emotional impairments associated with these conditions foster a tendency to avoid community-based activities in the community given the presence of others and that physical symptoms (e.g., pain or fatigue) disrupt veterans’ participation in typical patterns of activity.
The term animal-assisted interventions (AAIs) is a commonly used umbrella term that encompasses a plethora of ways in which different species of animals are beneficial to people. Equine-assisted interventions, another umbrella term, comprise a growing subset of AAIs and encompass both equine-assisted activities (EAAs) and equine-assisted therapies (EATs).
Broadly speaking, EAAs involve horses, clients, participants, volunteers and instructors affiliated with an equine center in mounted activities on a horse, as well as unmounted activities such as grooming, tacking or caring for a horse. Whereas EATs also integrate activities involving horses, credentialed health professionals design, deliver, or direct these goal-directed interventions in accord with their professions’ respective scopes and standards of practice for our Veterans.
Benefits of Veteran Horse Therapy
According to research, horseback riding or equine therapy has been successful in helping veterans show marked improvements in the following areas:
- Emotional awareness
- Stress tolerance
- Impulse control
- Problem-solving skills
- Social responsibility
- Interpersonal relationships
- Post-traumatic stress
- Traumatic Brain Injury
Horses and veterans are similar in a few very important ways. Though the horse cannot speak, it is keen to understand a person’s actions and body language. Both the veteran and the horse tend to be hypervigilant of their surroundings and potential dangers; both can use the actions and body language of others to determine situations.
The horse also can sense a veteran’s pain, anxiety and fears, and is able to react to those feelings it is perceiving to steady the veteran’s issues at that moment. In a way, the horse can sense the sacrifices of the past and willingness to sacrifice for others in the veterans. The horses are willing to put their trust in such a creature, and a relationship between horse and veteran is built on that.
Kaltequine offers, a equine bonding experience and networking program for combat veterans at our Care Farm in Champion Lakes. Veterans come to the care farm, meet up, bond together and also groom, train and ride the horses. At the end of the visit, they network and are introduced to opportunities to help them get settled back into civilian life.
And the best part is that each veteran’s experience can be designed and paid for by DVA. Another great thing about the program is that participants can return as mentors to fellow veterans as often as they want.