In cooperation with the PATH, Horses for Heroes Program, and the Veterans Administration, TEC is proud to announce the start of its Veteran’s Program. TEC now provides equestrian therapy for our wounded warriors suffering from physical and psychological stress, injury and trauma. Our individual and small-group classes help veterans regain trust, social skills/balance and can provide direct physical therapy for injury. For more information or to schedule a visit, contact TEC.
Equine Therapy and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Ever since the revolution Americans fought in 1776, horses have been part of the military. A soldier riding a horse has become a symbol of war and physical courage – an icon of the brave person willing to ride into the “valley of death” to defend home and country.
Now horses again are coming to aid the military — but this time, it is to help wounded warriors not in battle, but after they return home. Equine Assisted Psychotherapy, which involves using horses to cure psychological wounds, is the newest way to help returning veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome.
For many reasons not completely understood, post-traumatic stress syndrome is on the increase among veterans deployed in the Middle East. In previous wars, the percent of soldiers with the disorder was between 7% and 10%; however, among veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq, that rate is closer to 20% to 25%. Some believe one reason is that all soldiers fill out a questionnaire designed to identify symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome so that more are now being diagnosed. Other experts believe the nature of the Middle East war, fought without large battlefield engagements but with constant surprise attacks by individuals, is causing the increase.
Equine Assisted Psychotherapy is particularly effective with veterans and other victims of trauma, who tend to avoid “talk” therapy because their memories are so painful. Many vets with PTSS do not want to admit they have a problem because they fear being stigmatized by mental illness and career-related repercussions. They often refuse the armed services’ typical offer of ten individual counseling sessions over a 15-week period. This is where equine therapy can be helpful.
Although some who take part in equine therapy actually ride horses, the emphasis of the therapy is learning to read and respond to non-verbal communication. Because horses are prey animals, they are geniuses at picking up cues from their environment, especially from other living things. If a participant is smiling but still exhibiting tense and nervous body language, a horse will become confused by the disconnected body language and respond immediately. In this way, a horse provides instant biofeedback that helps the participant learn to be authentic emotionally.
For post-traumatic stress syndrome, horses are uniquely situated because they are prey animals,” said Gary Adler, president of Pegasus Riding, an equine program for veterans in New Mexico. “Their survival depends on being sensitive to smell, sound and movement. These are triggers for people with PTSS. They don’t want to deal with human interaction because they’ve lost trust by constantly dealing with people who want to kill them.
Post-traumatic stress syndrome can cause symptoms such as anxiety, nightmares, moodiness, inappropriate anger, depression, substance abuse, and psychosocial difficulties. Working with horses teaches victims to relax and to adapt their behaviors and body language to the needs of the horse. As one trainer put it, “A horse is 1200 pounds of lie detector. He responds positively to positive words and behaviors, and negatively to negative words and behaviors.”
— Information courtesy Treatment Centers.