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Help for Injured Veterans Through Horse Therapy

Alternative Therapies for the Injured

I recently had the privilege of reading about Aaron Heliker, an Air Force veteran,  who returned home from and Iraq and Afghanistan to face PTSD, TBI, third-degree burns, and nerve damage. Heliker was given 42 medications when he returned home from war.  He found healing in working with and building a relationship with a horse named Fred.  He created a documentary, "Riding My Way Back," to chronicle his progress.

War veterans suffer many of the same injuries we see daily in our car accident and work injury clients.  Chronic pain, recovery from multiple surgeries, PTSD, traumatic brain injury (TBI), spinal injuries, loss of eyesight, loss of limbs, and toxic exposure are just a few of the many types of injuries these young soldiers are bringing home.

Some of the more fortunate of these returning vets are finding help and emotional healing through hippotherapy, otherwise known as horse or equine therapy.

Horse therapy for the injured.jpg

There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man. ~ Winston Churchill

Riding horses has a long history as a therapeutic treatment. As early as 600 B.C., Hippocrates wrote about "riding's healing rhythm" for both mental and physical improvement. English and French physicians between A. D. 1600 and 1900 prescribed riding as a treatment for treating neurological conditions and improving posture, balance, and joint movement.

Utilized in Germany and the United Kingdom in the rehabilitation of World War II veterans, the therapeutic nature of riding gained momentum when medical and equine professionals began to take notice of the physical and emotional benefits of horseback riding for rehabilitation.

Some of the benefits of Equine Therapy:

* Builds self-esteem, empathy, and a sense of responsibility through the relationship with the horse.
* Improves posture, balance, symmetry and muscle control through the rhythmic movement of riding
* Gives riders self-confidence through the leadership they exhibit with their mount
* Encourages a new visual perspective of independence

Considering that 22 veterans a day are committing suicide, I think if members of the congress and the senate look into equine-assisted activities for veterans, we would see some positive progress.

Two bills are being reviewed by Congress:  a bill called, "H.R. 1705 Rehabilitative Therapy Parity for Military Beneficiaries" which provides members of the military access to equine therapy. Another bill, "H.R. 4977: COVER Act" is designed to fund research of the effectiveness of alternative therapies such as equine-assisted activities.


Veterans Find Help From Horses, by Robert Piper, 9/14/14

Horses for Heroes Website

Equine-Assisted Activities for Veterans

BraveHearts Therapeutic Riding & Educational Center

Caisson Platoon Equine Assisted Programs

Rainier Therapeutic Riding

Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH)

Video about Horses Helping Veterans:


Thanks for posting this. My wife is a psychologist that practices equine assisted therapy work and hosts an annual tele-summit and in-person symposium where therapists and coaches who use horses in their work gather to learn from one another.

You listed some great resources at the end of your blog. One other I wanted to mention is HRTV's Emmy nominated documentary called Saratoga WarHorse, which can be streamed here:

Thanks for helping to spread the word about the powerful effect equine assisted therapy in all its forms can have on people who have been faced with traumatic events in their lives.

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