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Using equine therapy for PTSD to treat veterans is nothing new. While not every facility offers this approach due to special resource needs, the science is sound in its effectiveness. Equine-assisted therapy offers many benefits for those living with posttraumatic stress disorder, but certain advantages of the approach seem to be particularly useful for veterans.

Unfortunately, many vets living with PTSD don’t know about these benefits. This makes them less likely to seek out this form of treatment. Transformations at Mending Fences recognizes what a detriment this can be, so we’ve created the following guide to focus on the secret benefits veterans receive when undergoing equine therapy for PTSD.

Contact us today at Mending Fences to learn more about the other benefits and get started on the path to healing.

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

That’s because neural mapping has shown physical changes to the brain following equine therapy. Many different 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.

The reason this is so important is that posttraumatic stress changes brain chemistry itself. These changes directly lead to the symptoms experienced by vets after living through trauma. They affect the ability to cope with trauma at all. Consider just a few of the changes to the brain experienced during PTSD:

  • Amygdala changes: The body’s natural alarm system is known as 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 in an overactive state. This can make common occurrences — such as a waiter dropping a tray — cause an instant panic response.
  • 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. Such changes reduce a person’s ability to recognize that a perceived threat (e.g., waiter dropping tray) isn’t a threat after all.
  • Hippocampus changes: The memory center of the human brain — known as the hippocampus — is directly related to intrusive thoughts and hypervigilance with PTSD. This is the area of the brain that tries to process trauma, but since the experience is typically overwhelming, the brain doesn’t process it correctly.

Equine therapy for PTSD can counteract these changes with its own alterations to brain chemistry. Of course, this is beneficial for anyone living with posttraumatic stress. Why would such a benefit stand out more with former military members? It’s because serving in the Armed Forces — even if PTSD isn’t the outcome — creates its own changes to brain chemistry.

For instance, blast exposures can permanently alter areas of neural tissue and promote plasticity in the amygdala and hippocampus. Unfortunately, this blast exposure doesn’t have to be related to bombs or any other severe blast. Most soldiers have exposure to between five and 20 blasts just while in training.

The chemical changes to the brain from equine therapy for PTSD are well-documented. They’re also an essential aspect of this approach’s success in treating veterans with posttraumatic stress.

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2. Horses and Vets Are Kindred Spirits

It may sound strange to use the term “kindred spirits” for horses and veterans, but that’s the best way to describe it. Equine therapy for PTSD has benefits for anyone dealing with the condition, but due to the similarities between horses and former military members, there are unique benefits gained from the therapy.

Regardless of what type of treatment a person undergoes, being able to identify with others is paramount. This is what makes group therapy and the Help For Our Heroes program at Mending Fences so effective. Just consider a few of the similarities between vets and horses and the benefits veterans receive from equine therapy for PTSD will become apparent.

Hypervigilance

Whether it’s a wild bronco out on the prairie or an equine in the stable, horses are hypervigilant at all times. This is why almost everyone — even those who don’t interact with the animals — knows to never stand behind a horse. While such hypervigilance may sound like a hindrance to equine therapy for PTSD, it’s ideal for helping veterans heal.

That’s because service members share this hypervigilance. Yes, anyone living with PTSD has a similar heightened awareness. This behavior is ingrained in veterans, however, from the moment they enter training. Without this level of vigilance, they could easily overlook potential threats. Having this in common allows the horse and vet to build a special trust.

On the Lookout for Danger

Many things can cause hypervigilance, but watching out for danger is one of the main culprits. This is something both horses and vets live with. Equine therapy for PTSD allows these two spirits to understand each other. They have the same concerns and same fears. This is another reason the two can so easily connect on a primal level.

Utilizing Body Language

Horses cannot fully understand anything a human says, so human intentions are mysterious to them. Members of the Armed Forces deal with something similar. Enemies can approach them and put on a facade to lower the soldier’s guard. This is why both horses and veterans utilize body language to make snap decisions.

Neither the horse nor the vet undergoing equine therapy for PTSD means harm to the other. This will be apparent to both almost immediately. Body language is its own form of communication. Since both equines and service members are fluent in this language, they’re more primed for focused and helpful interactions.

Make a New Friend Today

Equine therapy isn’t reserved to only help veterans. There’s no denying, however, that it seems like a perfect approach. Unfortunately, there are no one-size-fits-all treatments for PTSD. You’ll need to sit down with a licensed professional to decide if this is the right way for you to go.

Contact us today at Mending Fences to get started on this path. And while you’re at it, take a second to visit the Meet Our Horses page. You might just run into some future friends.

3. Effects of Equine Therapy for PTSD Last Long

One of the major advantages of equine therapy is how quickly it can alleviate PTSD symptoms. Every individual is different, but studies have shown benefits in as little as three weeks. After six weeks, these benefits were clinically significant. On top of potentially offering quick improvements of symptoms, the effects of this therapy have also been shown to persist.

Most studies focusing on equine therapy for PTSD have found consistent improvements during follow-up. This could be due to a variety of issues, but the altered brain chemistry discussed earlier certainly stands out. Changes to the brain don’t typically happen overnight and with the reduction in stressors following military discharge, these benefits can persist.

This is important for veterans due to how long their symptoms can last. The Department of Veterans Affairs states that many older veterans have dealt with PTSD symptoms for more than 50 years. The near-constant stressors experienced during military service likely play a major role in this, so approaches that offer long-lasting results are ideal. Equine therapy for PTSD fits this bill.

Equine Therapy for PTSD Can Help. Get Started Today

Serving in the military 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 at Mending Fences offers equine therapy for PTSD along with an array of other treatments. Our goal is to create customized plans geared to each client. The Help For Our Heroes program also keeps the unique needs of veterans in mind. Posttraumatic stress doesn’t have to rule your life. Contact us at Mending Fences today to learn how we can help.