Veterans’ PTSD and Therapeutic Horsemanship at Windrush Farm

Throughout history, the effect that war has on soldiers has been known and classified as different things.  Even today, there are a variety of issues that plague the veterans who are sent overseas.  One of the most common challenges which veterans today face is PTSD.

guidehorselogowithhashtagPTSD, also known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, often occurs after an individual is faced with an event that severely frightens them, typically due to perceived or real threat of bodily harm to self or to someone else. Some examples include assault, abuse, serious accidents, natural disasters and of course, combat exposure.  There is no set formula for who develops PTSD and who doesn’t. It can happen to anyone who undergoes a traumatic event, or who witnesses someone else undergo a traumatic event.

There are four main types of PTSD symptoms.  They are: reliving the event, avoiding things that remind you of the event, negative changes in beliefs or feelings and hyperarousal.  Other problems that often co-occur with PTSD include depression, anxiety, substance abuse, chronic pain, challenges forming relationships and lack of emotional regulation.

smileshorselogowithhashtagEquine assisted activities have often been seen to help relieve the symptoms of PTSD, as well as aiding in the general readjustment process.  Horses are phenomenal teachers of patience, communication and emotional regulation.  As prey animals, horses are hyperaware of their surroundings and ready to flee at the first sign of trouble.  They respond to the emotions of the people around them, allowing an individual to observe firsthand how their actions impact others.

Therapeutic riding and other equine assisted activities have shown benefits in three major areas: physical, psychological stepingdownlogohashtagand social.  Some of the physical benefits include improved balance, increased coordination and sensory integration.  The psychological benefits include improved confidence, increased risk-management skills and reducing anxiety, as well as providing individuals often labeled as ‘different’ a sense of normality.  Equine assisted activities also provide the social benefits of friendship and teamwork.

Some un-mounded activities that occur here at Windrush Farm include grooming, leading, long-lining and working with our new obstacle course! Grooming and leading help veterans to learn more about their equine partner and how they communicate.  This initial communication encourages mutual respect between the person and horse, which in turn helps them develop a partnership.  Long-lining teaches more in-depth ways to communicate with the horse through both verbal and non-verbal cues.  During this activity the bond of trust between horses and their handlers increases. The most challenging form of communication is leading the horse through our outdoor obstacle course. This requires the veteran to combine all of the skills he or she learned during other unmounted activities to effectively lead the horse over and through the obstacles.  This particular exercise requires large amounts of patience, as the horses are often unsure how to get through the obstacles and rely on the veteran for leadership and guidance.

WomanhorselogowithhashtagIf you are interested in learning more about our volunteer opportunities, please contact volunteer@windrushfarm.org . For more information about our Horsemanship for Heroes (H4H) programs, please contact our program director, Jenna Turcotte at jenna.turcotte@windrushfarm.org.  We hope to be able to offer more training and information about working with veterans in particular, so make sure to keep an eye out if you are interested in learning more!

Contributed by Danielle Graham, Windrush Farm Intern