Just like emotional support animals and service dogs, horses can help veterans with healing the scars from battle, both internally and externally. In the same way that horses have been used to exercise the seldom-used muscles of disabled people for decades, horses can help veterans in their physical therapy journey. Horses can also help with the emotional healing from PTSD or other psychological battles they are facing.
Since the early 1970s, animal-assisted therapy practices started including the use of horses. Horses are aware of what humans are feeling, often more so than the human themselves. They sense emotions, they are open and honest, they can help heal.
For the past five years, War Horses for Veterans has been doing just this. Co-Founders Andy and Patricia Brown and Patrick Benson have a shared passion for supporting veterans through the use of horses. Patricia Brown’s father was a pilot during World War II and her husband Andy has employed many veterans over the years. They decided to open up their home, and their farm to veterans and help them heal.
Patrick Benson, a combat veteran and professional horseman, found comfort and solace in horses after leaving the Army in 2004. Combining forces with the Bensons, he’s been able to use his understanding of the physical and emotional benefits horses can bring and help fellow veterans start the healing process. Jason Klepac, an Army veteran and retired law enforcement officer recently joined the team as a program manager. All of the volunteers that help run the program are also veterans.
How War Horses for Veterans Works
Veterans apply online for this four-day program, located outside Kansas City. After their applications are received, they talk to a program representative on the phone to decide which program is the best fit. “Each program is a little different based on the people attending,” co-founder Patricia Brown explained. “We try to keep each program to about eight people, four who have attended before and four new ones.”
The ranch also hosts larger groups, like military units, groups of first responders, and leadership groups. Most programs run over the weekend, but local veterans and first responders can come by during the week when there isn’t a program running. Currently, the program slows down considerably during the winter months, but plans to build an indoor arena with a lounge will allow them to operate year-round.
The veterans receive more than lessons on riding and caring for horses, they develop comraderies and a level of comfort around each other. Sometimes they just need to talk to people who “get it” without having to explain everything, and they find that during a weekend spent at War Horses for Veterans.
The program is completely free for those veterans attending. The local DoubleTree hotel sponsors the program and provides rooms and local restaurants provide the meals for the program. Veterans do return frequently usually about four to six months after their first time. “They go home on a high and then return a few months later when they need a reboot,” Brown said. “We see them come back time and again.”
More than Just Riding Horses
When veterans arrive at the Stillwell, Kansas farm they usually come with a friend. Patricia Brown said, “Veterans can come back as many times as they want – as long as they bring a buddy with them.”
Most of them have little to no experience with horses, but within a few hours, they are helping groom them and are riding them in the arena. The veterans also learn how to cook some healthy meals from a chef that comes in for the retreat. The focus is on networking, not on horses.
“Veterans are their own best therapy, the horses are the bridge,” Brown said. And she has seen it happen a few times a month for the past five years.
After the veterans leave the ranch, they stay in touch with the larger War Horses for Veterans networking group. If someone is looking for employment, the Browns and Benson help find them a job. In fact, nine veterans have moved to the Kansas City area to be closer to the program and they all found jobs. “We’ve been 100% successful with helping our veterans find employment,” Brown said. “But most of them aren’t looking for jobs.”
Mostly, they want to ride horses and talk with people who understand. And that’s what War Horses for Veterans provides them. A safe place to connect with other veterans, and ride horses.
Do you know a veteran who would benefit from this program? Or just want to learn more about War Horses for Veterans? Visit them online and learn how to apply and support this organization as they continue to push forward to help as many veterans as possible.
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Photo Credit: War Horses for Veterans