Therapists using horses to help with post-combat transition for soldiers

By: Hope Jensen Email
By: Hope Jensen Email
PTSD treatment

A local organization is using horses to help soldiers transition into the post-combat world. (WRDW-TV / May 28, 2012)

News 12 at 11 o'clock / Saturday, May 26, 2012

AIKEN, S.C. -- It is a weekend to commemorate our fallen heroes and honor our military members and one group is trying to do that by offering free therapy to soldiers.

It's called equine-assisted psychotherapy and is being used to help treat soldiers coming back from war.

"You have to reprogram the brain and that's so hard to get at sitting in an office," said therapist Suze Maze.

"One of the things that's so powerful about EAP is they get to work through combat experiences without having to sit and talk about it and many times the talking about it brings up the trauma and that's what they put a lot of energy towards avoiding," said therapist Stephanie Bowman.

The therapy involves using horses -- an animal, therapists say, have a lot in common with the soldiers.

"Post-traumatic stress disorder, which a lot of soldiers are coming back with, or maybe not full blown, but a variation of that, horses mirror that very close," Maze said. "I work with thoroughbreds and they are very much into fight or flight reactions and that's what post-traumatic stress disorder is, it's a fight or flight reaction."

There are dozens of activities, all done on the ground, that can help soldiers work through many different issues.

"The activities that we do with the horses then become metaphors for real-life application," Bowman said.

"Here they get to try and fail and try and fail and it's OK -- they can find their own way back and find out what works for them," Maze said.

And it's something that can make a huge difference in soldiers' lives.

"It's life-changing for a soldier, for a marriage, for all the family members that are around it, your aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, daughters and sons," Maze said.

The therapy can be done with anyone, even those afraid of horses.

They can do sessions without even touching a horse. They say you can learn a lot just by observing them as well.

The Equine Rescue of Aiken offers this therapy and they are trying to raise funds through donations and fundraisers and even sponsoring a soldier to be able to provide this service to soldiers for free.

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