For years, the Remount Foundation has supported the Wounded Warrior Wellness Program at the United States Air Force Academy with great success. Many veterans use the program to support their traditional mental health care and enjoy the very different focus and approach the equine assisted learning offers.
The success stories are unbelievable!
The suffering our veterans go through, the often-despicable abandonment when these soldiers need support the most, the isolation, and the often-destructive neuro conditions they have to handle are passed what humans should have to encounter.
I have worked with veterans and for the program for over seven years. I have spent hours in the saddle letting the electromagnetic field of the horse do its magic and the trails their therapeutic mastery.
Working one on one to support their individual needs was powerful and helpful to most, however, almost every single one voiced a concern for not being able to reconnect with their partner and their family. Most were worried about what their spouses had to endure and their children had to go through because of the trauma they had to work through.
Most sessions the veteran mentioned these worries which made me think that our program had limits to what we were supporting and helping with.
What about the families of the warrior? What about the caretaker who woke up to the nightmares and had to calm their spouse but still function in the morning to get the kids to school?
What about the children who did not understand why a family members’ personality changed and needed so much more time alone and away?
What were we doing for the tribe of the warrior?
The answer was not much.
Yes, of course we invite families to come out and ‘hang out’ around horses and the healthy environment, but structured planned support to help families reconnect was not yet part of the program.
When I worked through this notion with Jeanne Springer the co-founder and program director of the Remount Foundation, she full heartedly agreed that Horse Boy (soon ATHENA) would be a great match, and addition to the already existing work we do. It would expand our tool box to reach even more families and support more individual needs.
Remount Foundation agreed to finance the training of volunteers and the president even provided ribs the second day of training.
All together we had ten people train in Horse Boy 1 from age 15-73.
An amazing crew of equine specialists, passionate volunteers, and educators took a two-day training at the USAFA Equestrian Center, starting off at 65 degrees and braving a 19-degree snowstorm the second day!
Engagement was incredible, collaboration, sharing of tools and experiences helped everybody grow and feel empowered and encouraged.
Discussions went from very depressing issues of suicide rates exploding 200% in 10-14 years old teens, to individual experiences of PTSD, trauma, to encouraging success stories with grouchy donkeys ‘loveing’ on needy people, endless healing horse rides, environment and freedom experiences, and the heart of it all connection building.
The similarities between autism, depression, and PTSD were stunning to me.
My own daughter volunteered, and a while ago was also diagnosed with severe depression and a quote came to mind for all of these conditions, they have to “overcome paralyzing, neurologically driven anxiety and fear.” (Isaacson, R. The Horse Boy, Back Bay Books, 2009) and ATHENA’s (Horse Boy’s) strategies and tools can help overcome this.
Some incredibly clever combination of former knowledge changed the way we can help with neurological challenges.
Let the journey begin!