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Horses & Veterans: Transitioning Back to Civilian Life
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Horses & Veterans: Transitioning Back to Civilian Life

As Veterans Day approaches, take a look at how equine-assisted therapy is helping ease veterans’ transition back into civilian life.

Horses have their own unique histories, personalities, moods, and needs for connection—they function within a herd, and just observing herd behavior can make humans aware of their own challenges. That is especially significant for veterans, who are conditioned to be on alert and aware of self and others as they face their unique jobs and missions.

Veterans, from the beginning of their training, are conditioned to be on alert and/or in fight-or-flight situations; the brain that (functions) in that manner is changed. Whether in combat or not, this early training sets a biophysiological and social emotional pattern which carries through the transition out of the military and into their current lives.

Horses help veterans concentrate on what’s happening at the moment, said Mitchell Reno, who served two tours in Afghanistan before taking part in the EAAT program at BraveHearts Therapeutic Riding and Educational Center. BraveHearts—which has locations in Harvard and Poplar Grove, Illinois—uses only Bureau of Land Management mustangs in its EAAT program.

“(Some veterans) are depressed because they are focused on the past and they are anxious because they are focused on the future,’” Reno said. “The mustangs are special because not only do horses force you to be in the moment, but they know fear of the roundups and of people handling them, and they see every movement.”

Horses help veterans to learn and develop the relationships they need to reconnect with their communities, each other, and their families.

Research shows that even caring for horses by grooming, feeding, and being around them has positive effects on physiological and psychological functioning. Equine-assisted therapies allow the veteran to experiment with caring for another again. The relationship that develops between the veteran and horse becomes a powerful change agent.

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