Horse therapy for wounded veterans

June 14, 2011 8:36:11 PM PDT
It is said that horses can help children and adults recover from both physical and emotional problems.

Action News spoke to one wounded veteran in a horse therapy program who had never ridden a horse before, but now says he can't imagine his life without his horse.

Major Terry Evans has been learning to ride horses for about a year and half. He says he and his horse Grant have a special relationship.

"I think every time I see him he looks forward to seeing me," Evans said.

The feeling the mutual.

Terry says Grant has helped him in ways he never thought possible. Terry served 20 years in the Army. In 2004, while in Iraq, he was injured by an IED.

"It was devastating. I can just remember my head was just throbbing, incessant pain," Evans said.

It not only caused physical pain, but also severe emotional pain.

Terry says upon returning to the States he often felt anxious and nervous and he started to isolate himself. All signs of post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.

That's where horse therapy comes in.

Experts say horses feed off emotions so in order to control the large animals, riders have to be calm and self-assured. That's why riding and even just taking care of horses can help soldiers with PTSD regain their emotional strength. It also helps them establish a bond and break their isolation.

"Pet owners can really appreciate it because anyone who has a pet that they love, knows how important that emotional bond and connection can be," Renee Hughes of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Red Cross said.

Hughes says that's why they started the program there and they've seen the benefits.

"It's helped me have more patience and reduce significantly my anxieties that I would normally have. It's actually helped me to trust more the folks that are around me," Evans said.

Right now, the program is funded by the Department of Defense, but that grant runs out at the end of the month. Hughes is hoping donations from people and businesses in the community will help keep horse therapy for veterans going.

"This is a small thing that we can do to have our young men and women know how much we care for them," Hughes said.

Terry says he's discovered a lifelong friendship with Grant and wants to keep riding.

"I'll stay as long as they'll have me," Evans said.

Horse therapy can also help people with more severe physical problems such as helping soldiers learning to balance and walk again.

As stated above, the funding for the program is running out soon.

If you would like to donate to keep the program going, you can mail checks to: The Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Red Cross
2221 Chestnut St
Phila., Pa 19103
Write "Services to Armed Forces" or "Veterans" in the memo line

Donations can also be made to the local Red Cross chapter by visiting: American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter