Tri-State Therapeutic Riding Center kicks off a new equine-assisted therapy season for military veterans facing physical or mental disabilities Jan. 7.
The local Horses 4 Heroes is a blend of the national program with the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship practices already used by the local Reinbow Riders. The deadline to register is Jan. 1.
Denise Wright of Tri-State Therapeutic Riding Center started the project last year. Now her mother, Cheryl Wright, who is certified in pet therapy, has taken over facilitating the program.
“I’ve been around horses since I was 6 years old,” Cheryl said.
Unlike some similar programs the local Horses 4 Heroes serves veterans only, not their families.
She said knowledge of therapeutic techniques and experience working with horses are crucial for the facilitator of such a program.
“I feel like I’m called to do this, and it’s something I wanted to do because it is veterans,” Cheryl said.
“Any issues or problems, physical, emotional or mental” can be assisted through the six-week program, she said. This kind of therapy can be especially helpful for those struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The program for veterans was really built from a desire to help them after Denise Wright learned of a Reinbow Rider’s mother who was in the military.
An instructor at the riding center was also a military veteran and encouraged the addition of the program.
This newest Tri-State Therapeutic program focus on a lot of “ground work” with the horses before they ever get in a saddle. This aspect of the program focuses on connecting with the horse through brushing the horse’s mane, etc.
The session’s students got to the point where they could ride independently, Cheryl said.
However, she added whether a person rides or not will be determined by comfort level and physical ability.
“The whole idea behind animal therapy, any animal therapy is the animal being nonconditional, nonjudgmental, totally not even recognizing or noticing the disability,” Cheryl Wright said. “There is a certain fear factor with horses particularly and I think when they work through that first step, particularly if they are unfamiliar with a horse ... they step a little out of their comfort zone.”
She said the horses are very in tune with what is going on around them.
“They are therapy horses ... so they have already worked with the disability children, at-risk children,” Cheryl said.
For those with physical disabilities working with the horses gets them to stretch and reach beyond their physical limitations.
“If they are balancing on an artificial leg they have to get outside their comfort zone to take that little step,” Cheryl said. “That is why groundwork is so important.”
In equine-assisted therapy, horses help draw people out of their comfort zone and focus on healing.
“Certain horses will connect with certain people,” Cheryl said.
Additional support is created in the program because a social circle is created among the veterans.
“They don’t feel as isolated,” she said. “It is an introduction back into the real world. We forget that they have been in a whole different would from us. They have been told what to do and how to do it by the military.”
She said for veterans with additional challenges this transition back into their former life can be difficult.
For more information or to register, contact Denise Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.