Tough problems require innovative solutions, especially when the old way of doing things isn’t working. And there is more than ample evidence that the VA has totally botched treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), two of the signature wounds of the ears in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s why Horses Spirits Healing Inc. (HSHI) in Billings, Montana uses horses to help heal veterans who are suffering from psychological trauma such as PTSD and TBI or physical disabilities such as amputations or spinal cord injuries.
Horses Spirits Healing Inc. (HSHI) was established in 2014 as a 501(c)3 by the owners of the Intermountain Equestrian Center to expand their scope of equine sports and education to include Equestrian Assisted Activities and Therapy (EAAT) for returning military personnel. Assisted Activities and Therapy activities includes activities such as therapeutic riding, mounted or ground activities, grooming and stable management, shows, parades, demonstrations. HSHI services Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.
To regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.
But the staff at Horses Spirits Healing aren’t the only ones using horses to help people suffering from psychological trauma or physical disabilities. For example, the staff at the Ironwood Residential Treatment Center in Morrill, Maine uses horses as a therapeutic tool to help teens deal with deeper emotional issues. In Middleburg, Florida, the mother and daughter team of Marianne and Rebecca Davenport, own and operating Hope Therapy, and since 2001 they have been making a difference in the lives of troubled individuals with the help of highly trained horses and caring volunteers.
If it is happening in Maine and in Florida, it should be possible to spread the concept nationwide of using horses to help heal veterans. It should be fairly easy to use these existing programs as a model to create similar programs for veterans programs in the same local area. The expertise is there. It is just a matter of applying that therapeutic expertise to veterans as well as non-veterans.
If you have never owned a horse or worked with horses, it might not be obvious why working with horses is so therapeutic. Simply put, horses might be the most intelligent domesticated animal. When you walk into a barn with cows, the cows moo and shuffle their feet until you feed them. Then they ignore you. But when you walk into a barn with a horse, the horse greets you with a whinny, and each whinny has a different tone and length. Horses literally talk to you. And horses truly are gentle giants.
According to Horses Spirits Healing, some veterans find it calming just to groom a horse, while other veterans enjoy the horse’s gentle gait, and other veterans rehabilitate through physical activities like moving hay bales. It is this simple, non-judgmental interaction that helps alleviate combat wounds, both seen and unseen.
Horses Spirits Healing is a member of the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH) which sponsors Equine Services for Heroes, which assists military veterans through services provided by PATH International members and by providing leadership and guidance for equine assisted activities and therapies.
PATH International Past President Dr. Paul Spiers puts it this way, “Our service personnel have fought to preserve our freedom, and, for many, at a very dear cost. We must be certain that if our wounded service personnel and veterans need and want this kind of help, they will get the best PATH International has to offer.”
Veterans of any age can benefit from the Horses Spirits Healing program and by being involved with horse. Horses are everywhere. They’re in the city, in the suburbs and in the countryside, If you live in an area where there are horses, reach out to the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH) and ask what you need to do to start an Equine Services for Heroes project near you.