“I returned home in 2007 from a 15-month deployment to Iraq. Although I was diagnosed several years ago with PTSD , I avoided any type of treatment. I used every excuse in the book from I am ok and I can handle it to refusing to talk to someone that has no idea what I have been through.
During my time participating in the partnership with PTSD Foundation of America and Soul to Soles Connection, I realized that I am no alone. I have met extraordinary men and women that can relate to some of my experiences and feelings.
For the first time in 13 years, I have begun to mention some of the situations that have weighed heavily on my heart and mind. This program has been invigorating to my life in so many ways. I will be forever grateful for being allowed to be involved!”
Participated in a Closed Group of 7 Veterans
“Terrified of horses and wholly unfamiliar with Gestalt theory, I started this program with a good deal of trepidation. I trusted in its promise however, and am I’m incredibly glad I did.
The horses offered a mental safety I can’t remember the last time feeling. In this safety, I was able to contemplate ideas, thoughts, memories, fears, label, constructs, wants and needs. I did what I wanted; I said what I needed. The horses reacted to my emotions, providing response, but always maintained their calm; ultimately emotionally supportive without being fundamentally affected. They modeled behavior for me while proving me safety.
Katie and Maria, our tour guides (professional facilitation team) on this journey, knew exactly when (and how) to engage, and when to let me be; allowing me to explore and think at my own pace. I am truly thankful for my time with Soul to Soles.”
Participated in a Closed Group of 7 Veterans
“For someone in the military like me, it’s hard to swallow my pride and ask for help.
This was a safe environment to open up in. Sometimes the horses talked for me and helped show me the path to save my marriage.”
Participated in Individual Sessions
“My 14-year-old son and I began coming to the farm almost two years ago. We had both been dealing with our fair share of personal trauma and were essentially in survival mode. He had dealt with the fallout from my struggles with alcoholism and addiction, the breakdown of his family and his father’s sudden death. I needed a place to begin to heal from the pain of life.
The environment was safe and inviting. The team of counselor and equine-specialist established an authentic space free from judgement. I watched my son become less angry, bitter, and sarcastic. I watched him be enveloped by love and support. I watched him be disarmed by the relationships he formed with the horses and llamas. I saw him learn that ‘not if, but when’ life gets hard, you reach out for help.
I can speak firsthand of the benefits of my involvement. Horses are emotionally sensitive animals and tend to reflect the energy and body language around them. Being in the horse’s presence naturally helped to bring to the surface many troublesome thoughts and feelings that needed to be dealt with. These were opportunities to move through the difficulty with the help of the counselor and equine-specialist. I often say that the horses ‘do the heavy lifting’, when it comes to walking through the tough stuff. For me, the spirit of the horses combined with the unique support of the humans is an equation that adds to healing.”
“Geriatric Veterans with cognitive deficits often struggle with the feeling of being an observer of their own life. The very nature of Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s threatens to rob a person of their individuality, their personal memories and ability to meaningfully connect with others. Many of the daily choices, and that of their family members, are now decided and acted out by medical staff persons. And while healthcare has come a long way in becoming “person centered” and “homelike”, which are measures to be appreciated – truly living in the moment, celebrating one’s life as it presently is – remains a dim glow in everyday skilled nursing care.
Humans have an innate desire to belong, and to be a part of something bigger than themselves. The need, perhaps especially for Veterans, is to know they are making a difference. When our Veterans feel they are connected and making a difference, that is when the dim glow becomes a spark, a flame!
When our aging Veterans roll into Willow Equine and Soul to Soles Connection, submerged in an environment that both comforts and energizes, a subtle reminder of home and the independence of their youth. Equine assisted psychotherapy becomes the perfect catalyst for what our Veterans need most. The ability to connect and be present. An opportunity to just be. No judgement. No confusion. No power struggles. Simply the opportunity to bask in the presence of a large animal that accepts them as they are. The ability to meaningfully impact their environment.
Willow Equine and Soul to Soles Connection allows the Veterans to bask in the sensory stimulation … enjoy the warm beams of sunshine that rest upon their cheekbones or catch the whiff of honeysuckles while being serenaded by a chorus of birds chirping. Simple freedoms such as these are a gentle reminder of all that Veterans, and their family members, sacrifice to protect our homeland and the liberties offered to all residing here. Despite the magnitude of what these Veterans faced in combat, a trip to the farm leaves them filled with gratitude. They understand that these “simple freedoms” are anything by simple.
The bus ride back to the VW. G. (Bill) Hefner VA Medical Center is traditionally bursting with both enthusiastic chatter and a calm confidence of knowing their morning mattered. And then the question is always the same … “When are we going back?”
W. G. (Bill) Hefner VA Medical Center, Salisbury, NC