Mutual Healing for Veterans and Rescue Horses

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Credit: Courtesy Horses4Heroes

Credit: Courtesy Horses4Heroes

Veterans Day is a time to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good. The Homes for Horses Coalition salutes both veterans and our members that are helping them heal physical and psychological injuries while giving new life to horses in need. Equine Assisted Therapy is a growing field and many of our members are seeing first-hand how matching humans and horses improves trust, concentration and confidence in both.

The entire mission of member organization Horses4Heroes is focused on serving military heroes and their families. Through Operation Free Ride, thousands of military men, women and children have received free horseback rides at host facilities from coast to coast. Horses4Heroes offers free therapeutic programs to veterans such as Unfinished Business, a program for veterans with PTSD who need to work through a loss or difficult situation, and Back in the Saddle, an empowerment workshop that teaches skills, including handling stressful situations and understanding verbal versus non-verbal communication. After the initial program, veterans have the opportunity for more intensive training or can be assigned an instructor and special needs horse whose own transitional issues are a barrier to finding a forever home. For veterans that really embrace the work, Horses4Heroes will help facilitate scholarships to become a certified instructor or trainer with an approved program.

At Habitat for Horses in Texas, members of the armed services in the Wounded Warrior Program benefit from equine assisted psychotherapy. Many veterans suffer in silence from the effects of trauma and the dehumanization they have witnessed in war zones. Horses are able to break the emotional barriers the soldiers have created to protect themselves. Horses respond to a human’s emotional state in an honest way, and learning how to relate to them helps veterans regain confidence and trust, and helps them to cope with emotional stress.

At Zuma’s Rescue Ranch, the ZEAL Program combines Animal Assisted Coaching and Experiential Learning to help veterans rebuild trust and confidence, as well as refocus their attention to giving to the horses while healing their broken minds and bodies. “The skill developed working through life’s challenges with equine therapy partners is one that cannot compare to traditional educational models," said Jodi Messenich, executive director of Zuma’s. “The partnering with horses once destined for slaughter brings a level of compassion coupled with a desire to help another being. Those life lessons are creating compassionate hard working men and women.”

Cindy Gendron, The Homes for Horses Coalition Coordinator, said, “These are just a few of our members that have witnessed the symbiotic relationship that rescue horses can have with humans that need healing. It’s an honor to observe how these and other members are helping veterans face unique challenges by allowing them to bond with horses that are overcoming their own physical and emotional scars.”

The Homes for Horses Coalition is supported by the ASPCA (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), the Animal Welfare Institute and The Humane Society of the United States’ Jeannie and Jim Dodson Equine Protection Fund. It is dedicated to ending horse slaughter and other forms of equine abuse, while promoting growth, collaboration and professionalism in the equine rescue and protection community. Find us online at www.homesforhorses.org and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/#!/HomesforHorses.