Equine therapy has become a unique practice in helping service member and veterans who may be experiencing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In addition, research has shown improvements within the family structure through this therapeutic approach to combating PTSD.
Horses are prey animals responding to new and potentially dangerous situations with a flight or fight response, most often flight. Due to their natural instincts and intuitiveness, horses can sense the anxiety, frustration, and stress of someone approaching them. They are considered mirrors to your current emotional state, meaning approaching a horse in a calm and relaxed manner; the horse will remain calm and relaxed. However, if a horse is approached by someone that is tense and unsure the horse becomes tense and unsure, then responds by their natural instinct of either flight or fight.
Horses pay attention to our body language, and react accordingly. One of the strategies for helping service members with PTSD through the use of horses is to help them understand the way they are approaching others and relate their experience back to themselves. Another method is for individuals to learn through the use of therapy horses how to recognize their current emotions and change them. In order to approach the horse, the person has to calm themselves and relax so that the horse will follow suit. Although in the exercise the service member’s goal is to approach, ride, or take care of the horse. They can then apply these goals from the exercises in other areas of their life.
Watch and listen as veterans provide testimonials on the use of equine therapy to heal their invisible wounds at the Boulder Crest Retreat in Bluemont, VA.
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This MFLN-Military Caregiving concentration blog post was published March 18, 2016.