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Therapeutic Riding: Soldiers Helping Soldiers

A pilot therapeutic riding program for wounded soldiers provides more than just physical benefits.

The therapeutic riding program at Fort Myer allows soldiers to help wounded military veterans.

Decade after decade the elegant final journey through winding roads of Arlington National Cemetery has been the last service the Caisson Platoon of the 3rd Infantry (The Old Guard) has given its comrades in arms. But from May 12 to June 2, 2006, they have helped wounded warriors from Iraq and Afghanistan improve their balance, coordination and hone other valuable physical therapy skills.

Using the "soldiers helping soldiers" concept, volunteers from the Caisson Platoon, based in Fort Meyer, Va., were trained as horse leaders and side walkers. In addition, the horses hand-picked for the program also received special training.

Four sessions were held over the three weeks. The initial session was used to evaluate each rider's skill set and to establish a baseline. The following sessions progressively challenged the riders, increasing the difficulty of the tasks. From working with the horse at the halt to competing in relay races and barrel racing at the trot, each rider was encouraged to improve during each session.

An occupational therapist from Walter Reed Army Medical Center measured each amputee's capabilities in specific areas prior to and following each ride. The therapist noted that adjusting to the motion of the horse helps with core strengthening of the lower back and hips while taking pressure and pain off the end of amputated limbs. Each rider found a whole new center of balance and a whole new sense of control.

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"I like the fact of having the Army taking care of its own," said wounded soldier SPC Max Ramsey. "That makes a big difference, and it enhances camaraderie not just with other soldiers, but with the horse, which is a dynamic that few get to enjoy, even with two good legs and arms. And getting out of the clinical hospital environment, outside, is good for any person's well being."

As COL Bob Pricone, commander of The Old Guard said, "It's all about soldiers helping soldiers."

For more information on the program, see the August 2006 issue of EQUUS magazine.

Plus, give magazine gift subscriptions to active duty military men and women as a "thank you" for their service through our new Subscriptions for Soldiers program at www.subs4soldiers.com/equine.

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