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PATH International Horses for Heroes Therapeutic Riding Program

Learn About this Valuable Resource for Wounded Warriors

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PATH International Horses for Heroes Therapeutic Riding Program

Staff Sgt. Retha Anderson, left, and Sgt. Tamar Simms, both with the Warrior Transition Unit, practice leading a horse while participating in a Horses for Heroes equine assisted psychotherapy program.

Photo by Nichole Riley, Moncrief Army Community Hospital. Photo courtesy of U.S. Army.
Horses have a long history of being used in programs aimed at rehabilitating individuals suffering from emotional, physical and mental health wounds. One particular therapeutic riding program known as Horses for Heroes (not to be confused with Horses4Heroes which has programs for the entire military family), is gaining popularity as an alternative therapy for servicemembers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and other physical wounds sustained in combat.

In 2007, the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA), now known as the Profeessional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.) developed the Horses for Heroes program after taking a close look at similar pilot programs conducted at Ft. Hood and Ft. Meyer. With the support of the VA and numerous PATH Intl. approved riding centers, the Horses for Heroes program is available to combat Veterans, free of charge, at several facilities throughout the U.S.

About the Program
Many servicemembers battling PTSD avoid social settings that require interaction with others; and by doing so they often become isolated, depressed and detached from the world around them.

One of the many goals of the program is to reintegrate the servicemember into a calm, peaceful social environment. This goal is accomplished by enabling the servicemember to work on an individual basis with a horse and therapist. Over time, the servicemember’s confidence and ability to trust increases, but those aren’t the only benefits.

“We are predicting that their sense of hope will increase, which would mean that their level of depression will decrease through this activity. Once that decreases, we think we can engage them in therapy much better - and engage them in specific trauma therapy,” Dr. Cynthia Dunn, a psychologist at the Lexington, Kentucky VA Medical Center said in a VA news release.

A Good Match
Before beginning the riding portion of the program all participants are carefully matched with a horse that's suited for their particular needs. For example, a servicemember who is struggling with anxiety issues is paired with a low-key, calm horse.

After being matched with a horse, the servicemember then takes time to get acquainted with the animal, which begins the bonding process between horse and rider.

High Standards
“Our service personnel have fought to preserve our freedom, and, for many, at a very dear cost. We must be certain that if our wounded service personnel and Veterans need and want this kind of help, they will get the best NARHA has to offer,” Past President Dr. Paul Spiers said in a NARHA press release.

The participating facilities may slightly differ in routines and schedules, however facilities offering the Horses for Heroes program must operate according to specific guidelines outlined by PATH Intl.

Video of the Horses for Heroes Program
To get an inside look at the Horses for Heroes program and hear from participating servicemembers, check out this video from the Therapeutic Riding Program (TROT) in Tucson, Arizona.

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