By: Lindsay Brim November 11, 2015
Let me start this blog post by saying that I am neither an active military member nor a Veteran. However, we at Crossroads Corral are passionate about giving back to those who have fought for our country. In May of 2015 we completed a certification seminar, “Coming Home Again: Equine Assisted Applications for Veterans and Their Families”. We have conducted much research on Equine Therapy for Veterans and spoken to many Veterans about their experiences and the subject of Equine Therapy. We have the utmost respect for our active military members and Veterans and that is why they are a group of people we want to reach with our horses.
Veterans and horses have much in common. This is why equine therapy can be so beneficial in assisting Veterans with transitioning “home” post deployment.
1. Herd behavior of horses is similar to the military unit
During basic training, recruits are trained to develop a “unit self esteem” which can be looked at as being part of a herd. The soldiers are no longer a just looking after themselves but for an entire unit (herd). When soldiers are in combat zones, they are on high alert at all times and constantly aware of their surroundings in order to stay alive and keep their unit safe. This behavior is the same for horses; they are constantly on high alert and analyzing their surroundings for threats. In any herd there is a horse in charge that looks out for the rest of the herd. Horses are instinctively hyper aware and very conscious of their surroundings.
2. Horses have no ability to place judgment on a person
When someone leaves home to courageously fight for our country they come back a changed person. Friends and family may have seemingly innocent expectations and many may not understand why the Veteran who just returned home cannot go to the movies, walk the mall or even go to the grocery store. Friends don’t understand why they don’t want to go the nightclub they used to frequent, go see a concert or why they must sit in a restaurant facing the door. Our expectations of our returning Veterans place added stress to their lives. The young man or woman does not want to let their friends or family down but they need time to adjust and transition. Horses have NO expectations. They did not know the person before they left to fight for our country, they are only living in the “now” and looking at the person right in front of them. Horses allow people to “live in the moment” and truly be themselves without being judged. They don’t care what we are wearing, if we have makeup on or if we are at the barn in our PJs.
3. Horses can help humans develop trust
Trust is huge for Veterans and horses. Horses are willing to follow once they have gained respect and trust in a human. We are the same way; we don’t just trust just anyone, especially if we have spent time in a combat zone where we were constantly wondering who we could trust. It is a huge accomplishment if we can earn the trust of a 1200-pound animal and they can teach us how to trust again. An exercise can be as simple as a horse willingly walking beside you on a lead rope; this is the horse telling you, “I will follow you because I trust you will not lead me into danger”. Another example is if you are in the round pen with a loose horse and the horse willingly approaches you, that is trust. Horses are really great at protecting themselves and if they don’t have trust, they will retreat.
4. Horses help us to become more aware of our non-verbal communication
Horses operate on Non-Verbal communication. Many of us do not realize how our non-verbal communication comes off to the rest of the world. Some Veterans have found that it is hard to build relationships with people post deployment. Horses have the instinctual ability to literally show us or “mirror” how we are presenting to the world. If you are in a bad mood, or acting “standoffish”, the horse is going to behave the same way. The client then begins to wonder, “why is the horse turning away from me when I approach or why does he/she have their ears back, its like they are ignoring me?” They pick up on our energy. I cannot tell you how many times I have personally had bad rides on my horse and looking back it was my fault. I was in a bad mood before I even got into the saddle.
5. Horses can teach us to be “at ease”
Horses are very quick to change from “at attention” to “at ease”. Humans on the other hand, get upset about something and it can take them an hour or even a day, week, or month to get over it and become “at ease”. If the horse in the wild sees something as a threat they react to the threat then quickly go back to grazing. Horses often re-circle when they see something they do not understand right away. I have seen it time and time again. A barking dog on the other side of a fence approaches a horse. The horse runs initially from the threat (reacting quickly), then stops, turns and slowly approaches the dog to get a better look (re-circle) and then goes back to eating grass (at-ease). We can use this as a metaphor for our Veterans. Horses can teach Veterans to acknowledge that a threat existed but then get back to their lives.
If you are a veteran, active military, or from a military family and are living in Central Florida please consider us if you are seeking mental health counseling. We look forward to meeting you and welcoming you to our herd.