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Horses Help Combat Veterans Recover from PTSD



Horses Help Combat Veterans

The relationship between horses and humans goes back a long way. Since its domestication, the horse became a fixture in human life. Helping with growing crops, riding, war or leisure, horses were there — much as dogs and cats. So it’s no surprise we can use horses to treat humans both in the physical and the mental aspect.

Horses Help Combat Veterans Recover from PTSD

Columbia University researchers want to evaluate how horses can help combat veterans with their PTSD. Three or four veterans at a time spend 90 minutes with two horses and staff members. They meet once a week, for eight weeks, slowly acclimatizing themselves to the animals.

Horses, as prey animals, are highly attuned to stimuli. We know horses can recognize human facial expressions and react accordingly. They are very alert to human emotions and physical expression, which makes them act like a mirror or a person’s mental state. This helps people acknowledge how they approach others and how they truly appear, even when they themselves aren’t aware of it. If an angry person approaches the horse, for example, the horse will instinctively move away — even if the anger doesn’t quite show.

Equine psychotherapy is a relatively new field, but with promising results. Unlike other types of therapies, it does not necessarily address the traumas and experiences. Instead, they rely on trust-building and relaxation. During the study, the veterans will groom and even walk the horse, but not ride. This is so as to not establish a relationship of dominance over the animal. Learning the behavioral cues from the horses, and keeping the horse relaxed, are part of each session. Some of the veterans participating in the study had never met horses before.

Horses Help Combat Veterans

The Trinity Equestrian Center provides equine-assisted therapy for free. Image by Trinity Equestrian Center.

The meetings happen at the Bergen Equestrian Center in Leonia, New Jersey. The Man O’ War Project, a nonprofit set up by Army veteran Earle Mack, provides the funding. Earle, a horseman, approached the Columbia University with the idea. The study should continue throughout the rest of the year. Thus far, it’s met with success.

The Columbia University study isn’t the only initiative in this direction. Other centers exist throughout the U.S. and abroad. One such is Warrior PATHH, which includes equine psychotherapy among its many options. Another is the Eau Claire Horse Therapy, in the Trinity Equestrian Center. As equine psychotherapy begins to gain traction, we can expect new specialized centers.

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