When soldiers return from war with injuries, physicians treat their physical wounds, but the hidden, emotional scars can be harder to erase. The magical healing power of horses working with disabled children is well known, and The Right Path Riding Academy has been expanding its capacity to provide therapeutic riding classes to military veterans, following a $10,000 grant from the Disabled Veterans National Foundation.Post traumatic stress can leave veterans reluctant to engage with other human beings. ‘Hooves on the Ground,’ the therapeutic riding experience offered by The Right Path Academy, pairs veterans with horses to develop meaningful relationships. Experts have observed how much people and horses have in common, and these similarities increase when the human becomes more vulnerable. The anxious, vigilant soldier who constantly expects enemy attack shares that heightened sense of awareness with the horse, a prey animal, always on the lookout for predators.
In fact, horses and people are so much in tune that a horse can detect a human heartbeat from a distance of 4 feet and synchronize its own heartbeat to match. The horse can also sense the rider’s emotional distress and offer some much-needed physical comfort by nuzzling his cheek or, in the case of one wheelchair user, laying its head on his lap.
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As the relationship between rider and horse develops, a mutual reliance and growing loyalty between the two restores the person’s confidence. This, in turn, can help improve the soldier’s relationships with family and friends. Stephen Carter from Bristow, who completed two combat tours in Afghanistan, says his experiences in war zones have led him to prefer his horse to people. As he maneuvers his horse, Trigger, he describes their relationship as a partnership of mutual reliance — like being back in his unit.Army veterans can feel alienated and emotionally distressed on return from combat and find it hard to communicate with their fellow beings. The healing powers of the silent, loyal horse can help to restore their faith in the world by offering comfort and companionship. See some of these wonderful therapy horses in action.
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