Horses Heal Veterans with PTSD

A new, innovative form of therapy uses horses to help solders returning from war transition back into civilian life.

By Nicole Fukuoka
Thursday, April 5, 2012 | 2:08 p.m. PDT

With a growing number of service people returning from war with post traumatic stress disorder, innovative programs like Hope for Warriors is helping soldiers get back on their feet. The program uses horses to encourage people who don’t thrive in traditional talk therapy environment, to start a therapeutic discussion about their experiences oversees.

“A lot of the military members that we’re working with Hope for warriors they have written us letters stating that if they didn’t have our program they wouldn’t be here today,” Said the program’s founder Julie Sardonia.

One of those veterans is Navy Petty officer Sarah Hedge, who served three tours overseas. After trying various different types of counseling methods, she’s found one that helps manage her PTSD.

“I’m not good about talking about things. I’m not good about bringing things up and that’s what’s great about here is I don’t have to bring it up. I’m very good about putting on a brave face, if I come in real angry but seem fine, Sissy will pin her ears or chase the other horses or something like that,” said Hedge.

Even though horses are domesticated, they are very vigilant of their surroundings and always wary of danger. This resonates with ex-military members who are trying to transition back into civilian life. Horse trainer Marie Ortiz says that horses are even more intuitive than people.

“Because these animals are so finely tuned to their environment as prey animals, they often are able to mirror the emotional energy that walks in. its uncanny they can pick it up better than any other person can,” said Ortiz.

Sarah comes to sessions once a week, and says that Sissy, Star, and Chrome are vital to her success in transitioning back into civilian life after spending so much time in a battle zone.

“I know I have issues that I need to work out with things that I’ve experienced and things that I’ve seen people go through. There’s no real set handbook of how to go through that, so it’s a process and that’s why I come here.” Said Hedge.