The House of Representatives has passed an amendment funding equine-assisted therapy for veterans receiving treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health conditions.
Passed on July 27, Amendment 47 of HR 3219—the Make America Secure Appropriations Act, 2018—transfers $5 million from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs General Administration account to the Veterans Affairs’ Adaptive Sports Grant Program to expand equine-assisted therapy programs.
Terry Murray, a Naval Intelligence Service veteran and developer of the Warriors In Transition program at the Bay Pines Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa, Florida, applauded the funding.
“That’s wonderful news,” he said. “I sense that the science is finally catching up with the anecdotal evidence we’ve been witnessing for nearly a decade.”
Murray said equine-assisted therapy is especially to helpful veterans challenged by PTSD because horses and soldiers share a heightened sense of awareness of their surroundings, as well as a desire to process information to protect the “herd.
“Soldiers on patrol in combat zones are at high alert for long periods of time because they want to stay alive,” Murray said. “At the same time, returning veterans often find it difficult to form bonds with friends, spouses, and others who never went to war, while they deal with the nightmares and flashbacks associated with post-traumatic stress.”
The “magic happens” in when veterans in equine-assisted therapy programs learn to see the dangers of their life experiences the way horses do, he said.
“Horses use their awareness to see a threat, identify it, react to the threat, and then go back to grazing,” Murray said. “We help veterans do the same thing—acknowledge that the threat existed and then (help them) get back to their lives.”
Meanwhile, the benefits for veterans involved in equine-assisted programs are immediate and obvious, he added.
“You literally see a shift in body language, shoulders release, breath comes easier, smiles emerge, laughter is heard, within just a few hours of experiencing the horses,” Murray said. “It takes time to (completely) change the way veterans think about themselves and others, but the horses show them where to start.”