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Wild Hearts Horses for Heroes helps veterans with PTSD

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At a holiday Open House today at her farm in West Bridgewater, MA, Julie Lovely introduced visitors to the upcoming Wild Hearts Horses for Heroes Healing through Horsemanship program that will serve veterans affected by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and other invisible wounds of war, beginning in the spring of 2014.

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The program's equine therapists include the gray gelding, Izzy; 18-year-old Kipper, a Paint with a beautiful blue eye and a lovable nature who was donated for this work by his former owner; and the miniatures Bootsie and Jimmy, both of whom were adopted by Julie in 2006 after they had been rescued under the auspices of Dutch Downs Farm in Uxbridge.

Visitors munched on cookies in Ms. Lovely's immaculate barn, where they mingled with the horses and the human members of the nonprofit's team, including Jen Goddard, a Natural Horsemanship Trainer and proprietor of Levaland Farm in Middleboro, MA; Nicole Long, an equine facilitated therapist who offers one-on-one psychotherapy sessions in which she considers the horses to be her "co-therapists"; and Cheryl Meola, who is not only a mental health therapist specializing in helping people affected by trauma, but also a lifelong horse person with certifications from the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) and the U.S. Eventing Association (USEA).

Julie Lovely, Wild Hearts' founder and executive director, has been involved with equine-assisted therapy for more than 20 years. Her interest in helping veterans affected by PTSD has its roots in her own recovery from the traumatic experience of having escaped from a fire that had ravaged her apartment building when she was in college. When her father sustained a traumatic brain injury after a car accident a decade ago, it further fueled her desire to ease the suffering of people whose bodies and minds have been indelibly changed by violent episodes they were unable to prevent or control.

"Our Healing through Horsemanship program transcends both therapy and horsemanship and touches lives in ways never thought possible," explained Ms. Lovely. "Participants forge an indescribable bond with our horses and begin the journey to recovery. There is hope."

As prey animals who have a finely honed "fight or flight" instinct, horses have an innate understanding of the fears and impulses felt by combat veterans who have been scarred by their wartime experiences. During the Healing through Horsemanship program, veterans will have a hands-on opportunity to communicate and connect with horses in a way that can help them to rebuild their relationships with family, friends, and society.

Wild Hearts Horses for Heroes is a nonprofit organization supported solely by grants and tax-deductible private donations. Its goal is to transform the lives of everyone it has the privilege to serve, through the healing power of horsemanship.

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