ALIGNING VETERANS’ STRENGTHS WITH HORSES’ FREEDOM FOR HEALING

We are recruiting Veterans and Service Members to participate in an equine mental health intervention aimed at treating trauma and the impacts of military service.
There is no cost to U.S. Veterans and Service Members. All the work is ground-based; no riding or horsemanship taught.

“I returned home in 2007 from a 15-month deployment to Iraq. Although I was diagnosed several years ago with PTSD , I avoided any type of treatment. I used every excuse in the book from I am ok and I can handle it to refusing to talk to someone that has no idea what I have been through.

During my time participating in the partnership with PTSD Foundation of America and Willow Equine, I realized that I am no alone. I have met extraordinary men and women that can relate to some of my experiences and feelings.

For the first time in 13 years, I have begun to mention some of the situations that have weighed heavily on my heart and mind. This program has been invigorating to my life in so many ways. I will be forever grateful for being allowed to be involved!”

– Josh, Army Veteran

Participated in a Closed Group of 7 Veterans

“Terrified of horses and wholly unfamiliar with Gestalt theory, I started this program with a good deal of trepidation. I trusted in its promise however, and am I’m incredibly glad I did.

The horses offered a mental safety I can’t remember the last time feeling. In this safety, I was able to contemplate ideas, thoughts, memories, fears, label, constructs, wants and needs. I did what I wanted; I said what I needed. The horses reacted to my emotions, providing response, but always maintained their calm; ultimately emotionally supportive without being fundamentally affected. They modeled behavior for me while proving me safety.

Katie and Maria, our tour guides (professional facilitation team) on this journey, knew exactly when (and how) to engage, and when to let me be; allowing me to explore and think at my own pace. I am truly thankful for my time with Eagala.

– Female Combat Veteran

Participated in a Closed Group of 7 Veterans

 
 

“For someone in the military like me, it’s hard to swallow my pride and ask for help.

This was a safe environment to open up in. Sometimes the horses talked for me and helped show me the path to save my marriage.”

– Active Duty Veteran

 
 
 

Geriatric Veterans with cognitive deficits often struggle with the feeling of being an observer of their own life. The very nature of Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s threatens to rob a person of their individuality, their personal memories and ability to meaningfully connect with others. Many of the daily choices, and that of their family members, are now decided and acted out by medical staff persons. And while healthcare has come a long way in becoming “person centered” and “homelike”, which are measures to be appreciated – truly living in the moment, celebrating one’s life as it presently is – remains a dim glow in everyday skilled nursing care. 

Humans have an innate desire to belong, and to be a part of something bigger than themselves. The need, perhaps especially for Veterans, is to know they are making a difference. When our Veterans feel they are connected and making a difference, that is when the dim glow becomes a spark, a flame!

When our aging Veterans roll into Willow Equine and Soul to Soles Connection, submerged in an environment that both comforts and energizes, a subtle reminder of home and the independence of their youth. Equine assisted psychotherapy becomes the perfect catalyst for what our Veterans need most. The ability to connect and be present. An opportunity to just be. No judgement. No confusion. No power struggles. Simply the opportunity to bask in the presence of a large animal that accepts them as they are. The ability to meaningfully impact their environment.

Willow Equine and Soul to Soles Connection allows the Veterans to bask in the sensory stimulation … enjoy the warm beams of sunshine that rest upon their cheekbones or catch the whiff of honeysuckles while being serenaded by a chorus of birds chirping. Simple freedoms such as these are a gentle reminder of all that Veterans, and their family members, sacrifice to protect our homeland and the liberties offered to all residing here. Despite the magnitude of what these Veterans faced in combat, a trip to the farm leaves them filled with gratitude. They understand that these “simple freedoms” are anything by simple. 

The bus ride back to the VW. G. (Bill) Hefner VA Medical Center is traditionally bursting with both enthusiastic chatter and a calm confidence of knowing their morning mattered. And then the question is always the same … “When are we going back?”

Terri Gilbeau, CTRS – Military Spouse
W. G. (Bill) Hefner VA Medical Center, Salisbury, NC