A CAVALRY CHARGE ON PTSD

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Two movies have been released recently, both are based on books written by their subjects, and both I’ve read, though I’ve only had the opportunity to see one of the movies so far. Both subjects suffer from PTSD, as a result of their military service, and war-time experiences. The movies are “Unbroken,” the story of Louis Zamperini, a World War II veteran, who just passed away in July 2014, and “American Sniper,” the story of Chris Kyle, an Iraq War Veteran, who was allegedly killed in February 2013 by another veteran, also suffering from PTSD, whom he’d been trying to help.

Awareness of PTSD, and similar disorders, grows exponentially every year, but the treatment options available struggle to keep pace. I’ve done a little research on the subject, and didn’t see where the concept was first introduced, of equine assisted therapy programs. I was happy to see however, how many of them come up in a general search online. My first introduction to such a program, was learning of Saratoga WarHorse (www.saratogawarhorse.com). Now, there are similar programs all over the country, as well as programs dedicated to training people for this kind of vocation, also becoming more and more common and accessible.

www.eagala.org Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association , http://e3assoc.org Equine Experiential Education Association, and http://www.pathintl.org PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) International, are three programs, offering training catering towards those with mental health training backgrounds, equine backgrounds, and/or both. These organizations are non-profits, who offer clinics, training, and certification, to help prepare you for work with both veterans and children suffering from mental or physical health challenges.

Saratoga WarHorse, based out of Saratoga Springs, NY, and now with a satellite location in Aiken, SC, pairs our war veterans, with off-track race horses. I think what appealed to me the most was how their program was helping give (maybe) a sense of new purpose to souls who (might) feel as though their lives were otherwise invalid, of the two and four-legged variety. I love the idea of helping our veterans, and if we can do it helping horses, I’m all in! Some of the other amazing-sounding programs I came across were: www.horseshelpingheroesproject.com, out of Smithfield, VA, www.horses4heroes.org, with many locations in California and Nevada, http://www.operationsilverspurs.org, in Conifer, CO, and www.unbridledwarriors.org, out of Green Cove Springs, FL. All offer supervised opportunities for our veterans to interact with horses, on the ground, and in the saddle (if they choose), at no cost to the veterans. All they have to do, is be willing to try.

Having no personal experience with PTSD to draw from, and only limited exposure to it, I can only try to wrap my head around what it might be like to live with every day. Based on the descriptions in the books, of how it affects your life, and the variety of ways it manifests itself, it seems to me, that simply being willing to take a step forward out of the darkness, it actually a giant step in the right direction. I think as Americans in general, we tend to thrive on guilt. We’ve gotten really good at making ourselves feel bad, for feeling bad, and I can’t help but think, that must play a part in how our veterans feel. As an example, say you’re on a diet, and you’ve been doing well, but one day you cannot say no to a cookie. You could enjoy it, and go on about life, stepping right back on track, but instead, you beat yourself up over it. You either tell yourself, “that was terrible, now I’m going to have to go to the gym TWICE tomorrow to make up for it,” or even worse, “that was terrible, and now my whole diet is shot. I may as well eat the rest of the bag!” My point being, if you already feel bad about something, is compounding it by kicking yourself while you’re already down really going to help? Probably not.

It’s like we’ve become a nation of people who refuse to give ourselves permission to feel, and be. If we have a bad day, we feel guilty for feeling bad, and allow it to spiral into something far worse. That’s something we can learn from horses, and part of why I’m sure they’re being used as part of the recovery process. Horses don’t have the ability to sit around and feel bad for themselves. If something terrible happens, they still breathe in and out, the sun still sets and rises again the next day, they carry on in spite of it. Maybe today was a terrible day, okay then, we’ll just try again tomorrow. I think part of their benefit is also their size. When we’re kids, we have our parents to hold on to when we feel frightened, sad, or angry. There’s something soothing about being enveloped by a larger, caring being. Once we’re adults, it’s hard to come up with someone who can produce that same feeling, but how about a 1,000 pound animal? Nothing beats a horse hug, as far as I’m concerned! During difficult days in my life, I cried on my horse’s shoulder, or threw my arms around his neck, it was exactly what I needed, something bigger than me, and my problems. Horses never judge, they wait patiently for you, they listen without interruption… They really are amazing therapists.

I’m so happy to see the Veterans Administration embracing these programs, and all that they offer. If you happen to be a veteran, or know of one in need of assistance, please click on this link:

http://www.va.gov/health/newsfeatures/2014/September/Reining-In-PTSD-With-Equestrian-Therapy.asp

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*I should add, that as I’m just learning about these organizations, I’m sure that there are many more I haven’t mentioned, and plenty that I don’t know about PTSD, veterans, abused children, or children with special needs. By no means am I trying to advocate any one program, nor am I deliberately excluding any. My only desire was to bring light to a topic, and to hopefully encourage you to investigate further. I would also encourage anyone who knows of programs to feel free to add them in comments. My only request would be to please not use my blog as a vehicle to share any political views, which I understand people may have. If you have a strong feeling about our military or government, I’d encourage you to please share that in your own blog.

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