As my cameraman Garrett and I left to interview veterans managing their Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD), we had no idea what to expect. Were they open to talking about their personal demons? Would they talk to strangers who would ask them questions about their time with horses?
Our own questions were allayed when we met the staff of the Stratton VA Medical Center’s Equine Program at SUNY Cobleskill where four veterans were in session.
We walk into the stable at SUNY Cobleskill and meet our contact Lyndsey Rhodes, a registered nurse at the Stratton VA Medical Center, Albany, NY. Rhodes is a cheerful happy medical provider serving in a residential program for hospitalized veterans. She often uses horses to benefit veterans’ emotional health. She started the equine program in 2017 and in collaboration with SUNY Cobleskill she helps veterans manage their PTSD symptoms.
Equine programs have been growing in popularity across the United States for veterans managing their Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD) they got through their military service.
According to Flying Horse Stable, of La Crosse, Wisconsin, equine programs incorporate equine-assisted activities that restructure new brainstem development moving individuals with PTSD, alcohol and other drug abuse, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and other mental health challenges toward a path of emotional recovery.
By exploring mindfulness and relationship-building skills between rider and horse, veterans improve their personal communication and emotional fitness.
Rhodes has a big job. Changing how veterans face their world and moving them in a positive direction. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports that about 20 veterans die by suicide every day in the United States. Multiple programs have been developed to prevent suicides among veterans including equine programs.
The four veterans we encountered at the SUNY Cobleskill riding center were still learning their horsemanship skills having been on horses less than three years. They all claim that their horses kept them alive during critical periods. One or two say that riding horses keep them focused. All of them said riding horses is helpful in managing their PTSD.
“In a sense, it changed my life,” U.S. Army Veteran Tommy Daniels said. “It was a matter of life and death, and the horses were able to get me grounded. They helped me to slow down and be in the present.”
As Garrett and I leave, we knew the veterans were changed forever by bonding with horses and developing communication and leadership skills that would have a lasting impact on their mental and emotional health.