Horses are natural-born therapists.
Consequently, the rising popularity of equine-assisted therapy is no surprise. It is being used to help people suffering from all manner of physical and psychological ailments, from cerebral palsy, to depression, to PTSD.
For more than a decade, the therapy horses at Serenity Farm in Luckey, Ohio have been helping people heal. Founder Debra DeHoff knows what a transformative effect horse therapy can have on people's lives.
"Horses are a prey animal so they are all about survival. There's a common unity in that philosophy that happens here between people and horses. We learn from the horses to step back together and move forward together. It's the I'll take care of you, if you take care of me philosophy. Horses live in the moment; they don't dwell on the past or worry about the future. They live in the right now."
A year ago, Serenity Farm launched an equine-assisted therapy program specifically for military veterans. The program is designed to help veterans tackle physical and psychological issues sustained during their military service.
McAllen Rivera is one of the program's participants. A Navy veteran, Rivera served in Afghanistan in 2010. His return to civilian life was anything but easy.
"I had bad PTSD coming home. I was in fights, arguments, police chases you name it. This place has truly helped change my life."
Realizing her son was headed down a dangerous road, Rivera's mother began searching for ways to help him. That's when she discovered Serenity Farm.
Rivera was reluctant at first, but in just a few visits, he began to reap the benefits of the equine-assisted therapy.
"The horses changed a lot of things in my life. They changed the way I approach things, the way I approach people. They have helped me so much with every day situations."
The impact of the therapy has been so beneficial to Rivera, he is now training to help other veterans entering the program at Serenity Farm.
Recently, Serenity Farm hosted a seminar by equine-assisted therapy expert and Army veteran Greg Kersten. The focus of the seminar was to train staff members how to help vets and their families.
Kersten has helped thousands of people cope with every kind of difficulty life throws at them. He sees valuable - and teachable - parallels between how groups of military service members and horses in herds interact.
"The actual military experience is herd-like in basic training. The soldiers, sailors, airmen, or marines learn to take care of one another and move forward together. That's exactly what horse herds do."
Serenity's program for veterans is relatively new, and still evolving. However, if Rivera's experience is any indication, it's headed in the right direction.
"If I am feeling sad, I just touch the horses and everything seems ok. Everything is better," he says.
You can read more about Serenity Farm and its various horse therapy programs here.
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