Veterans Talk About The Power Of Horses In The Fight Against PTSD: “A Whole Different Level Of Healing”

US Air Force veteran Angie Colella had tried basically everything to prevent PTSD from sweeping over her life when she ventured into the outdoors with a Mustang in the roundpen at BraveHearts farm in Harvard, Calif., in 2017 . Colella is just one of many veterinarians who have been helped by programs like that of BraveHearts, the nation’s largest equine therapy program for active and dependent individuals and veterans alike.

“I hadn’t done anything with horsemanship and all of a sudden I’m in this round pen with a 1,000-pound animal that could do a lot of damage,” Colella, 52, told Individuals in this week’s edition.

“I was definitely concerned,” says the Illinois resident, who enlisted in 1989, just before the Bay War began. “I was like, ‘What am I going to do with these bangs?'”

Miracles, by the way — and ones that help her deal with the triggers that produce flashbacks and force her to revisit past repulsions. “You learn to ground yourself and know where you really stand,” she says. “You think, ‘I’m here. I’m in this office. I’m sure. People who enter the entrance behind me are not coming to attack me.’”

Getting her pony to trust her — and getting the gargantuan beast to jog, change direction, call back, and walk right next to her with its nose on her shoulder — gave her a sense of accomplishment.

“I couldn’t accept that I actually did it,” she says. “It was just an incredible sense of accomplishment because if I can do that, if I can move this animal and it trusts me and relies on me, what can’t I do on a day-to-day basis?” ?” BraveHearts was founded in Northern Illinois in 2002 by the late Dr. Rolf Heavy weapons specialist and his partner Marge Gunnar, whose stallion Max helped her through the most horrific cancer diagnosis. BraveHearts offers free therapy to veterans and helps them overcome debilitating mental health issues ranging from PTSD to drug and alcohol abuse.

In 2010, Meggan Slope McQueeney — who credits the magnificent animals for helping her navigate the world as a congenital amputee without a right arm — took control of the program, which is based at Harvard and Poplar Woods. When she first started working there with the ponies, “I heard people say that if there weren’t a pony, they probably wouldn’t be here,” she says. “It was just a completely separate level of healing that I didn’t know ponies were capable of.” “God designed ponies to be very special,” she adds.

Concerned when she learned that veterinarians were dying from self-destruction in record numbers—according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, 20 veterans die from self-destruction every day—Slope McQueeney started the Trail to No Ride to End Veteran Self Destruction in 2017.

“We want to reduce veteran suicides to zero,” says Slope McQueeney, whose parents let her drive when she was three years old to teach her how to operate with one arm in a two-armed world.

Each year, BraveHearts instructors and participants travel 20 miles through urban communities across the country to let people know about the silent and often forgotten pain veterans endure and that help is out there. “They are an incredible team,” says Slope McQueeney of the “dedicated staff and volunteers who have been with me for more than a decade.”

Each of the 20 miles they drive is dedicated to each of the 20 veterans who self-destruct each day. Her last ride was in St. Louis, Mo. on Saturday. According to the BraveHearts website, 70% of the vets who work with them regain trust in others, while 83% have reduced their anxiety.

That confidence has a gradually growing hold among veterinarians, says Slope McQueeney. “They’re like, ‘Okay, I can trust the pony, so now I can believe the person who put me in contact with the pony.

Then maybe there’s another person in the barn that I can trust.’”

“They’re just such obvious, empathetic, center stage beings that they really recognize their function admirably,” she adds. “You know the current task, I have no question.”

Neither gives an account of Mercurio, BraveHearts’ veteran relations coordinator, who admits he was a sad pony person when he first started working for the organization.

“I was a kid from Chicago,” says the 79-year-old Vietnam veteran. “My riding began with the elevated railway.”

However, when in 2015 his partner Nancy, currently 72, asked him to join her at BraveHearts at Harvard, he was ready. Soon after, he was on his way to becoming a trusted therapeutic riding instructor, helping vets struggling with dark flashbacks and well-established emotional hurt from witnessing bloodshed in battle or a lone vet’s self-destruct.

“I’ve seen veterans with really difficult diagnoses: traumatic brain injuries, extreme PTSD, severe anxiety, suicidal thoughts, alcohol abuse, and a host of other issues,” he says.

“I’ve seen how being around the ponies, sitting on the ponies and communicating with the ponies literally changed her life,” he continues. The majestic but soft-hearted ponies he saw soothed countless concerned vets at the BraveHearts farm and ultimately saved him when his 28-year-old son died from a fentanyl overload. “Nancy tried to wake him up and he was gone,” he says.

“I had some really bad feelings,” he adds. “I was brutally angry.” “Responsibility starts to rot and all the things you should have, could have done, should have done – they capture you,” he continues. “It’s a terrible thing. And I could imagine for myself where those other veterans had been because of their circumstances.”

So he and his significant other went to the same ponies he worked with to teach other vets how to manage their own strong emotions. “We have strong beliefs,” he explains, “so I don’t want to discount that.” However, by spending time with the ponies on the farm, “we’ve had an opportunity to just kind of let our emotions run free. And the ponies were just amazing. They have a kind of empathy.”

Slope McQueeney is excited that the ponies can help vets like Colella, Mercurio and many more. She is also grateful to the ponies: “I call them Fellengel,” she says, “for everything they can do.” Veterans Talk About The Power Of Horses In The Fight Against PTSD: “A Whole Different Level Of Healing”

Adam Bradshaw

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