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Bay Pines VA Healthcare System

 

Equine Therapy Helps Heal Veterans

Veterans participate in the Equine Therapy program at the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System in order to learn strategies to cope and deal with stress.

Veterans spend the day at the Sarasota Manatee Association for Riding Therapy’s ranch in Sarasota Florida participating in the Warriors in Transition program (Equine Therapy program) which helps them learn different strategies and approaches to coping and dealing with stress.

By Melanie L. Thomas, MBA, Public Affairs Specialist
Monday, June 3, 2019

The Equine Therapy program at the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System provides Veterans with therapeutic interventions through respectful partnerships with horses. 

The approach to the program is built on evidence-based coaching methods designed specifically to empower Veterans to successfully address adaptive challenges.

Terry Murray, Warriors in Transition Facilitator explains that, “The whole premise of the program is to allow people to enter into a reflective experiential learning environment that is unique and novel.”

According to Murray, the program has been instrumental in harnessing creativity and allowing Veterans to experience neurogenesis.

“There are biomedical changes in the brain that are occurring when people are in nature and are working with the horses in this environment,” he said.

With Equine Facilitated Experiential Learning and elements from traditional coaching modalities, the approach focuses on facilitating the self-reflective process that emerges through the development of the horse/human relationship in specifically designed, ground-based exercises.

Jesse Raoul, U.S. Army Veteran has personally benefited from the program in many ways.

“For me, it’s helped me reestablish relationships with people that I’ve been dealing with. It also has helped me to learn to live a healthier and better-quality life,” he said.

The Equine Therapy program’s reflective exercises help Veterans demonstrate different states of being, helps them discover new easy to use tools for coping and dealing with anxiety, and teaches them useful techniques to better respond to stimuli in stressful times.

“The positive impact that this program has had on me is that it has helped me to connect the information I’ve learned in the classroom with real everyday life experiences, “ said Amy King, U.S. Army Veteran. “This experience has motivated me to really put in the work that it takes to get better,” she said.

As prey animals, horses are highly sensitive to their environment. A horse’s primary survival mechanism employs emotions as information. They feel an emotion, discern the message behind the emotion, take appropriate action, and return to grazing.

Elizabeth Blankenship, Bay Pines VA Healthcare System Recreation Therapist explains that a lot of people think about Equine Therapy as just therapeutic riding however, it can be a great intervention.

“What we do here is a lot of teambuilding and grounding exercises. We learn about the horses, their behaviors, how they communicate with each other, and then we move into speaking about how we communicate and interact with others on a personal level and then draw a connection to what we’ve learned here, to our everyday lives,” she said.

By partnering with horses, Veterans learn to ask for space, set healthy boundaries, lead without force, relax without losing awareness, and rebuild trust.

Jared Ezzard, Bay Pines VA Healthcare System Recreation Therapist explains that, “You can’t reach everyone with conventional therapy. Some people respond better in this type of environment.”

Ezzard has personally seen the difference that this program has made in Veteran’s lives.

We’ve seen Veterans who have had little to no interaction with people while in our programs blossom here.”

The Equine Therapy program at the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System is offered as a recreation therapy activity available to eligible Veterans.

To learn more about the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System’s Recreation Therapy program, please visit: www.baypines.va.gov/services/RTS.asp.

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