A look at local equine-assisted therapy for military veterans.
Post traumatic stress disorder is a prevalent condition among military veterans. The U.S. Department of Veteran affairs estimates that PTSD affects 31 percent of Vietnam War veterans, 10 percent of Gulf War veterans, 11 percent of Afghanistan War veterans and 20 percent of Iraqi War veterans.
A recent University of Missouri study on the effectiveness of therapeutic horseback riding on PTSD showed positive results. The study involved 29 military veterans with PTSD or PTSD with traumatic brain injury. They were monitored as they participated in a riding program once a week for six weeks. After three weeks, participants showed a 67 percent decrease in PTSD scores. After six weeks, there was an 87 percent drop. The study was published in the journal Military Medical Research.
Ocala-based Stirrups ‘n Strides Therapeutic Riding Center and Marion Therapeutic Riding Association offer therapeutic horseback riding for military veterans. Both facilities are 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations accredited by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International.
Stirrups ‘n Stripes: Founded by Betty Gray in 2007, Stirrups ‘n Strides began offering the veterans program in July 2017. Stirrups ‘n Stripes has provided equine therapy services to Marion County Veterans Helping Veterans and The Vines Hospital’s in-patient and residential military program.
“We have two sessions a day once a week for a five-week program,” says Gray. “Each session is generally two hours, with women veterans in the morning session and men veterans in the afternoon session. Once a veteran is matched up with a horse, they not only ride that horse but groom and take care of it as well. Each veteran is also assigned a volunteer buddy to go through the program.”
Gray notes that “the program has great psychological and physical benefits; we see miracles every day.”
Freedom Reins: Marion Therapeutic Riding Association, established in 1983, began its Freedom Reins program six years ago.
“Our program is open to all military veterans,” says Pam Morrison, MTRA executive director. “Some of our recent participants include retired veterans from The Villages and referrals from the VA hospital in Gainesville.”
The eight-week Freedom Reins program includes a one-hour session once a week. Morrison says that “we tailor each session to the needs of the individual veteran and that evolves through the program, from ground work to riding.” Each veteran also keeps a journal to chart their progress.
“We work on trust bonding, confidence, self-esteem, learning to deal with PTSD and other issues,” says Morrison. “The vets tell us they feel a great sense of peace here.”