Veterans and Military

Are you a veteran or still active in the military and have been diagnosed with PTSD, MST, depression or addiction due to your deployments?  Have you tried everything and hate all the side affects of the medications you are on?  Please consider trying EAGALA Equine Therapy with us and our horses, with never a cost to you.  The vets who have spent time with us tell us that their marriages are stronger, the bonds with their kids are stronger and they are being able to cut down on their meds after spending enough time with these horses who also are recovering from their own PTSD.

For more information please contact:
Shannon Novak
Tel: (281) 229 – 3633
Email: snovakhorsesandheroes@yahoo.com

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Post Traumatic Stress afflicts as many as one quarter of the troops returning from the Middle East, or about 300,000 men and women. And that is not counting all those who served in past wars, before this was even a classified diagnosis. At least 22 veterans commit suicide each day. There are many possible treatments for PTSD and a person may have to try a number of them before finding one that helps.

There is a rapidly growing interest in equine-assisted psychotherapy [EAP] supporting the psychological health and family relationships of service members, veterans and their families worldwide. More than 30 major VA Medical Centers in the U.S. are participating in Equine Assisted Activities and that number is growing rapidly, particularly with returning combat veterans.

EAGALA [Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association] is the leader worldwide in this growing movement. It is solidly grounded in well-established and researched theories of psychotherapy including Gestalt Psychotherapy, Solution-Focused Psychotherapy, Cognitive-Behavioral Psychotherapy and Experiential Psychotherapy. Many professionals in this industry believe that working with animals as part of the treatment moves thing along faster, especially horses.

Naturally intimidating to many, horses are large, powerful and not interested in pleasing people like dogs are. Horses are social animals, with defined roles within their herds, and very distinct personalities, attitude and moods, not unlike people. Within their herd, horses push, kick, bite, squeal, groom and stroke one another, have mates and enemies. An approach that works with one horse may not work with another, or even on another day. Like us, they can be stubborn and defiant, or friendly and playful. They like to play when they are bored, and get angry or impatient when they are not getting what they want. A horse will not give love or acceptance until the person has earned it through their actions, energy and emotions.

According to Dr. Laurie Sullivan-Sakeada, a Utah based Clinical Psychologist and leading practitioner of EAP, horses are prey animals, and like those who have been to war, rely on their heightened senses for survival. They react to and mirror the emotions of visitors directly, without words. Horses respond negatively to negative emotions. They respond positively to positive emotions, and they have no ulterior motives. They are just there providing non-verbal feedback.” The horses are therapeutic and interactive tools that speed up the therapy process substantially. Dr. Sakeada notes that one session of EAP in the barn is equal to five sessions ‘on the couch’.

Horses require us to work, whether in caring for them or working with them. There is always a risk working around horses due to their continual herd dynamics and instant reaction to danger. With EAGALA Equine Therapy that is minimal because there is no riding involved, only being on the ground with the horse or horses in an open area. They, by nature, are not aggressive . . . if they feel uncomfortable or endangered, they will simply move away from the source. A horse responds honestly to what a person is doing right now, giving no though to the past or the future.

During a session, a licensed mental health professional and an equine specialist, certified in the EAGALA approach, set up activities with the horses designed to reflect real life situations. This allows the therapist and the veteran to ‘see’ where problems are and find workable solutions. Veterans quickly recognize unhealthy patterns as the horses mirror them. When the veteran makes a sincere, consistent change in their action or attitude, the horses immediatly reflect this as well. There is instant and consistent feedback. The primary reason we use horses is that a horse will react or respond to a person’s behavior and emotion in the same way that another person would. Once veterans understand the things in a relationship for which they are responsible, he or she can make changes in themselves to improve the relationship with the horse and then apply those same changes to more complex human interactions.

According to Dr. Stefanie Brown, Founder of Operaion New Normal who works with all types of trama in the Colorado Springs, CO, area, “During EAP, participants have the opportunity to interact with the environment – nature, people, weather and animals – in activities designed, among other things, to foster personal growth, to increase confidence, to provide a safe place to process emotional wounds [including grief, loss, guilt and shame], to reconnect with their desire to feel – as well as their ability to express – emotions safely again, and to allow effective and controlled movement in areas where emotional energy ‘froze’ during or after a traumatic event and has remained ‘stuck’.

Dr. Brown goes on to say, “Symptom groups include re-experiencing [including reactivity to noises, images, misperceived objects; flashbacks, nightmares], avoiding [isolating, not participating in activities or with people you used to engage with, electing not to talk about your traumatic experiences], and hyper-arousal [including hypervigilence and sleep difficulties]. Anxiety, panic attacks, feeling disoriented and not-like-yourself . . . are common with PTSD. Confusion and questioning ‘What’s happening to me?’ for example, about how a stresor that you used to be able to handle easily can now overwhelm you is not unusual. There are logical reasons for these symptoms, given what happens to the brain during a traumatic event, and there are effective treatments to help the brain heal.”

The special demands placed on our service members and their families often lead to tragic consequenses including PTSD, depression, divorce, addiction, family violence, and suicide. EAGALA is action oriented verses just talk therapy. It helps those who have experienced trauma and their support systems who also experience trauma vicariously, recognize and change unhealthy patterns, build on their personal strengths, and translate emotional insights into life-changing action. Horses help heal: not the terror without, but the terror within. This type of therapy engages military personnel and their families in their own healing process, with solutions that meet them squarely on their own terms.