NARHA Horses for Heroes Therapeutic Riding trotting
Thanks to a unique program, horses and soldiers are working together, in a time of war, to rebuild lives and restore hope.
War has always chewed up and spit out its servants, doling out equal damage to two- and four-legged casualties. In World War I alone, more than a million American horses were exported to Europe. Only 200 came home.
Horses for Heroes, established in April 2007 by North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA), is a program for America’s wounded service personnel and veterans, bringing soldiers and horses together again. Utilizing NARHA centers, NARHA Certified instructors, and professionals including physical and occupational therapists, speech pathologists, psychiatrists and social workers, Horses for Heroes is dedicated to physically improving, emotionally empowering, and socially enhancing the lives of individuals with disabilities.
It did not escape the attention of this army of qualified caregivers that traumatic brain injury has been labeled “the signature injury of the Iraq war.” An estimated 10-20% of this war’s soldiers return home suffering from this kind of wound.
A study published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that even minor traumatic brain injuries, like concussions, may be associated with long-term health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
Programs like Horses for Heroes have never made one statement ring more true: the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man.
“The NARHA website, www.narha.org , lists NARHA Horses for Heroes programs in eighteen states, with new ones coming on board all the time,” says Barbara Yost, Communications Coordinator and Webmaster for the Denver, Colorado-based nonprofit organization. “Our NARHA Horses for Heroes are not only serving veterans who have returned from current conflicts with injuries, but Fieldstone Farm Therapeutic Riding Center in Ohio is serving older veterans who served in Vietnam and Korea.”
Yost continues, “One of the newest additions to our Horses for Heroes program is a moderated email group for representatives of NARHA centers that have already established Horses for Heroes, and people considering adding this important program.” A link to the group can be found on the NARHA Horses For Heroes web page.
Based on pilot programs at Fort Hood in Texas and Fort Myer in Virginia, where the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment Caisson Platoon is headquartered, Horses For Heroes has helped local centers welcome service personnel back home and offer them equine-related rehabilitation. A Horses For Heroes task force, which includes retired Navy Commander Mary Jo Beckman (a NARHA Advanced Instructor who operated the Caisson Platoon) and program co-creator, Ross Braun, oversees the development of appropriate equine-assisted activities such as therapeutic riding and driving, and equine-facilitated psychotherapy tailored to the needs of service personnel and veterans.
NARHA Chief Executive Officer, Sheila Kemper Dietrich, notes, “This is a population that only a few of our centers have tried to serve in the past, but it is clear how helpful Equine Assisted Activities can be for our wounded service personnel and veterans.”
NARHA was formed in 1969 to promote equine-assisted activities for individuals with special needs. At over 700 member centers, a total of 36,000 children and adults find independence through involvement with horses. To learn more, visit www.narha.org or call (800) 369-RIDE.