“Therapeutic horseback riding is the use of horses and equine-assisted activities in order to achieve goals that enhance physical, emotional, social, cognitive, behavioral and educational skills for people who have disabilities. It not only focuses on the therapeutic riding skills but also the development of a relationship between horse and rider” – Wikipedia
A recent published article introduced us to the little known art of healing veterans with a variety of wartime injuries using Therapeutic Horseback Riding (also known as Equine Therapy and hippotherapy).
Surprisingly, the earliest known mention of using horses to treat humans is found in the writings of Hippocrates (c. 460 BC - d. 370 BC). However, modern Equine Therapy (ET) originated in Germany in the 1940s. For example, after seeking ET, Liz Hartel (1922-2009) went on to win two silver medals in dressage at the 1952 and 1956 Summer Olympic Games. She was the first woman to do so, even with her disadvantage of being paralyzed below the knees due to her affliction of polio. It was her use of equine therapy that enabled her to compete and win those medals. And ET centers arrived in North America in the 1960s.
Equine Therapy combines three different types of therapies (physical, occupational, and speech-language) into an integrated program of just one. ET can be considered as a multitask operation because it includes care and maintenance of the horse, grooming procedures, and saddlery.
Here is data that lists some of the stressors facing of active duty military personnel returning from Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) war and veterans:
• The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are the longest combat operations since Vietnam.
• According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 29% of OEF/OIF veterans using VA Health Care have PTSD after they return.
• Census data shows that in 2011, more than 11,000 veterans in Travis County, Texas alone were disabled in some way by their military service.
• Department of Defense Research suggests less than HALF of all wounded veterans – especially those with PTSD – reach out to the VA or the military for help.
Equine Therapy has been recognized as an excellent treatment for veterans who have returned from the battlefield with a wide variety of injuries such as traumatic brain injury (TBI), post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), spinal cord injuries, cognitive defects, amputations, as well as hearing, speech, and visual impairments. And a handout from the Veterans Administration (VA) also states , “Equine Therapy/Animal-assisted Therapy has shown to be effective in treating patients, including combat veterans, with PTSD, depression, anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), conduct disorders, dissociative disorders and other chronic mental illnesses.“
A search of the Internet will provide the location of these services nationwide. However, here in Texas, the Texas Horseman’s Directory lists most of the sources that provide ET services. Here in Austin, there are several companies and organizations: Conscious Rider,
Horse Empowered Learning Programs (HELP), Cadence Therapy, and Anchor West.
Although these centers will most likely cater to veterans, only the Joyful Horse Project has an organized program for veterans called the Veterans Equine Therapy Services (VETS).
Many of us veterans still suffer from injuries incurred on the battlefield and we appreciate learning about the usefulness of equine therapy. Anything that helps us address lingering issues and brings us peace of mind is certainly most welcome to us.