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Veterans build resiliency through equine assisted therapy

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Laura Turner
  • 310th Space Wing Public Affairs


Video - PPTRC Veteran's Program

A 2014 press release from The Department of Veteran’s Affairs determined that at least twenty veterans die each day from suicide. Multiple programs have begun reaching out to the veteran population in order to bring this high number down and provide our nation’s veterans with the help they need.

One such program is based right here in Colorado Springs at the Pikes Peak Therapeutic Riding Center. Not only do they provide services to veterans through the Tricare insurance program, they also provide help to families of veterans as well.

“We serve veterans, we serve children with various diagnoses or needs,” said Sarah Price, a mental health counselor for equine assisted psychotherapy. “Some diagnoses include anxiety disorder, some adults might have bipolar disorders, ADHD; it really just depends. There are lots of different needs and symptoms that EAP can address and be beneficial for.”

PPTRC offers a Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International certified program, or PATH program, to assist their clients.

“PATH is a program that helps people with anxiety and disabilities,” said Carolyn Burke, Navy veteran and current PPTRC client. “I have PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) and I have bi-polar disorder. For me, they’ve helped me through all of those, each one individually. And the social anxiety, just dealing with people in general; you can learn to do that here.”

Not only does PPTRC have veteran clients, they also have experienced veteran staff members working on the grounds who understand what their current and prior military clients are going through.

“I was active duty Navy for six years,” said Adam Morrison, an equine specialist in mental health and learning (or ES instructor) at the center. “I was in Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm and Desert Sweep. Now I’m a student with Arizona State, [going through] their social work program for my Master’s, and the population that I wanted to work with was veterans with PTSD, traumatic brain injury and the growing need for combat trauma. That, and I never have a bad day when I’m out around the horses, so I thought this would be a perfect mix.”

Morrison would tell potential clients who may be experiencing PTSD symptoms that this program is not your typical in-office therapy.

“We’re able to create what I call a Therapy Team – an ES instructor, a therapist, the client and a horse, and it has a lot of advantages,” said Morrison. “I think it feels more free-flowing, there’s not that rigid office setting. And the horse is highly reflective of the client’s emotions and what they’re feeling.”

Amy May, a PATH-Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor and ES in Mental Health and Learning,  feels the program has impacted local veterans most by giving them a chance to just be present with the horse.

“I’ve had quite a few of them tell me that this is the first time in years that they haven’t been thinking about their anxiety or their experiences that are always kind of haunting them,” said Price. “So it’s a moment for them to relax and to breathe and be with the horse, sometimes challenged by the horse, and really build that bond.”

Since the program is funded by Tricare, it reaches a wide range of veterans; active duty, National Guard, Reservists and retired. The center has even started offering a free course to families, with a few requirements. The family must have Tricare coverage, there can be no more than four members participating and the youngest participant must be at least seven years of age.

This particular therapy session, which occurs once a week between 11:00 AM and 12:30 PM, does not include riding. It does include care activities, such as handling and grooming, to facilitate the goals of the group. Individuals wishing to participate in the program can reach out to Michel Cremeans at / (719) 834-2835.

For more information on the program and how to get involved as either a client or volunteer members, please reach out to Chester DeAngelis, PPTRC Program Director. / (719) 495-3908

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