Horses help with PTSD

We’ve been in the business of horse therapy for a number of years now, but we’re thrilled to see it making news all over the country as a very meaningful path of healing for so many people from all walks of life. We founded our retreat and wellness center as a place for one very special veteran in our lives to recover and find peace, and over our lifespan as an institution, veterans have been some of our most frequent guests. We were very happy to see some national coverage on CBS recently which showcases how horses are helping veterans recover from the trauma of war, particularly with PTSD and other residual disorders that we’re only beginning to understand from a medical perspective!

In the piece, the interviewer meets a retired Marine general who served several tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, and had troubles with temper when he returned home which led to a diagnosis of PTSD. It’s a common problem, as we’ve learned here at the ranch. This report said that at least 20% of returning troops will have PTSD, which is really an astonishing number, and definitely one of the underreported tragedies of wars we’ve been involved in for the past decade and a half.

The reporter visited a retreat very like ours in Colorado, which offers a range of horse therapy treatments and retreat opportunities specifically for soldiers. The head therapist says that the most important part of the program is to help the soldiers learn to let their guard down again after years of having to be tightly controlled in conflict zones. In fact, she says something that we’ve found as well at B&W, which is that riding horses is actually the least important thing you could be doing as a part of horse therapy. It’s about giving the soldiers and the horses an opportunity to build trust and reciprocity.

 

Horses helping out with victims of trauma and assault

We always love hearing about other horse therapy rescue missions, and we really enjoyed seeing a piece in the Hollywood Reporter recently about actress Beth Behrs, who has started a program for victims of sexual assault to spend time recovering with horses and working through their trauma.

Berhs has been going to see Cassandra Ogier, a horse “whisperer” and therapist for over 5 years, after she started having panic attacks when she landed her big break role in a CBS show. Her program is called the Reflective Horse, and it works by pairing people who are in the midst of an emotional crisis or dealing with past trauma with a horse companion. Ogier herself comes from a troubled background, and found healing with horses after childhood sexual abuse. She says that that horses are so attuned to our human emotional states because they have a very similar limbic system, from a biological standpoint. They can sense human emotions and biofeedback at least as well as most people, if not even more intuitively.

 

As we have found here at B&W, Ogier and Behrs say that the relationships patients develop with their horse companions are incredibly rich, and teach the human companions to allow themselves to find strength in vulnerability, and trust that has been broken in some way in their lives. Survivors who go to the retreat program told the Hollywood Reporter that being with the horses helped them become more honest with themselves, and confront the most difficult aspects of their pasts that they had struggled to deal with. They also talked a lot about being able to finally find their own authentic voices, which is something we’ve seen great success with in working with autistic children, who have had trouble communicating with others. With horses, they can get in touch with the purest emotional communication that is often a struggle.

 

One very unique aspect of the retreat these two women are running in California is that they are intentionally pairing people who have experienced trauma with horses who have had traumatic experiences in some way. This is something that is sadly true of almost all domestic and trained horses, and it is something we’re working toward being even more involved with here at the ranch: bringing in rescue animals and giving them a fulfilling mission with human counterparts.

Check out the SheHerdPower retreat for more details, it certainly sounds like a fantastic program! Also another tool of therapy nowadays is to do some pampering for yourself like getting a massage chair and enjoying the use of it at home, instead of always going to the spa or hiring a masseuse.