In the wake of service, many veterans grapple with unseen battles: those of the mind and spirit. Traumas, both physical and emotional, often cast shadows on their civilian lives. The path to healing can be elusive, but nature offers a powerful ally in this journey—the horse.

Various treatments have proven effective for this condition, but equine therapy for PTSD has been beneficial. In fact, it’s become a central aspect of many veteran treatment programs. Equine therapy, with its potent blend of physical activity and emotional connection, presents a promising avenue for veterans seeking solace and recovery. And at the heart of Central Florida, Transformations Mending Fences stands as a beacon. With its specialized programs tailored for veterans, it doesn’t just promise healing; it delivers a transformative experience, mending the fences of the soul.

This incredible connection not only aids in physical and emotional rehabilitation but also serves as a catalyst for comprehensive well-being. As countless veterans can attest, the magic of equine-assisted therapy lies in its multifaceted benefits.

Let’s dive into the top 5 advantages that make equine therapy an invaluable asset for our veterans.

equine assisted therapy programs offered by TMF in Morristown, Florida-min

1. Targets Many Common PTSD Issues

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common result of military service. Fortunately, one of the main benefits of equine therapy is that it targets PTSD symptoms.

Consider the following outcomes seen during equine-assisted therapy (EAT). Each outcome benefits those living with PTSD, and it’s why the approach is often favored over other mental health treatments.

  • Decreased feelings of isolation
  • Self-efficacy and self-esteem building
  • Reductions in anxiety
  • Increased confidence
  • Trust development
  • Self-acceptance
  • Decreases in depression symptoms
  • Improved management of stress

Considering the disproportionate effect PTSD has on former service members, this is easily one of the best benefits of equine therapy for veterans. Since more than half of suicides among individuals with PTSD directly result from the disorder, targeting the condition directly is essential. The clinical results of equine therapy can also reduce the risk of related issues such as addiction.

Detailed shot of a horse's eyes reflecting trust and connection with its handler-min

2. Changes to Brain Chemistry

One of the most significant benefits of equine therapy for veterans is its changes to brain chemistry. With many PTSD treatment options, measuring outcomes relies solely on client self-reporting. If someone feels better after a specific treatment, we can guess that the approach was beneficial?! Nope!

It’s not necessary to assume, however, with equine-assisted therapy for PTSD.

That’s because neural mapping has shown physical changes to the brain following equine therapy. Many treatments can affect brain chemistry, but these are typically medication-assisted approaches. You can get many of the same benefits without prescription drugs by using equine therapy for PTSD.

Consider just a few of the changes to the brain experienced during PTSD:

  • Amygdala changes: The body’s natural alarm system is the amygdala. It’s what triggers a fear response when something disturbing occurs. Changes to this structure in PTSD patients mean their brain’s response center remains overactive.
  • Prefrontal cortex changes: Your ability to regulate emotional responses stemming from the amygdala is directly linked to your prefrontal cortex. In patients with PTSD, this part of the brain becomes less active.
  • Hippocampus changes: The memory center of the human brain — known as the hippocampus — is directly related to intrusive thoughts and hypervigilance with PTSD.

3. Development of Trust and Bonding for Civilian Life

Veterans returning to civilian life often grapple with re-establishing trust, a pivotal component of their rehabilitation and reintegration. Equine therapy plays a crucial role in this process, offering lessons and experiences that can transform a veteran’s approach to trust. Here’s how:

  • Innate Sensitivity of Horses: Horses can perceive even minute changes in human emotion, reacting with genuine and immediate feedback. This honesty helps veterans engage authentically, understanding that they’re in a space of non-judgment and genuine interaction.
  • Authentic Bonding Experience: Building a bond with a horse requires patience and effort. These creatures do not grant trust instantly; it’s a relationship built over time, teaching veterans about the value and process of trust-building.
  • Mirror to Interpersonal Relationships: Earning a horse’s trust parallels the journey of forming deep human connections. As veterans navigate the challenges and triumphs of bonding with a horse, they gain insights into human relationships, making bridging gaps with loved ones and peers easier.
  • Ripple Effect of Trust: The trust cultivated in equine therapy often extends beyond the therapy sessions. Veterans find opening up, reaching out, and strengthening bonds with horses, family, friends, and the larger community easier.

Through equine-assisted therapy, veterans don’t merely form connections with horses; they gain the tools and confidence to foster trust in all areas of their lives.

4. A Sense of Control

Many of the difficulties former service members face come from feelings of no control. They often witness events firsthand where there is nothing they can do to change the outcome. This can make them feel helpless in their own lives. One of the many benefits of equine therapy for vets must be regaining a sense of control.

  • Combatting Feelings of Helplessness: Many veterans grapple with feelings of powerlessness stemming from traumatic events they couldn’t control during their service. These overwhelming emotions can lead to a pervasive sense of helplessness in civilian life.
  • Immediate Feedback from Horses: Horses provide real-time reactions, unlike other therapeutic methods. They’re attuned to the handler’s instructions, responding instantly and offering unparalleled interaction.
  • Empowerment through Direction: Guiding such a large and powerful animal instills a deep sense of control in veterans. Realizing they can influence and direct a horse’s actions reinforces the belief that they can shape their destinies.

A soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder partaking in equine-assisted activities at TMF-min

5. Benefits of Equine Therapy for Veterans Are Long-Lasting

It’s easy to envision equine therapy as merely facilitating other treatments. In such a situation, many might assume the benefits of such an offering would be short-lived. Fortunately, this isn’t what the science shows. A recent three-year study found that equine therapy led to long-term benefits in treating PTSD.

  • Swift Alleviation of Symptoms: One standout benefit of equine therapy is its potential to reduce PTSD symptoms rapidly. Research indicates noticeable improvements in as few as three weeks, with clinically significant results by six weeks.
  • Enduring Effects: Beyond immediate relief, the benefits of equine therapy are long-lasting. Subsequent follow-ups in various studies consistently showcase sustained improvements.
  • Addressing Persistent PTSD in Veterans: With many older veterans grappling with PTSD symptoms for over half a century, as per the Department of Veterans Affairs, lasting therapeutic approaches are crucial. The prolonged stress of military service exacerbates these symptoms, underscoring the need for therapies like equine treatment that offer enduring results.

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Equine Therapy for PTSD Can Help

Military service is one of the most selfless callings a person can answer. Unfortunately, answering this call to service comes with many difficulties. Even if someone experiences no serious injuries before discharge, the psychological effects of their Armed Forces service can last a lifetime. Fortunately, there is help if you’re struggling with posttraumatic stress.

Transformations Mending Fences offers equine therapy for PTSD and other conditions. Our therapeutic team is trained and certified in this therapy and many others. If you’re ready to get on the path to mental health, the first step in your journey is only one phone call away. Contact us today to learn how our approach to mental wellness can help you.