Horses’ Positive Effects Proven As Efforts Expanded To Assist Military Veterans

“There’s something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”

Although there’s controversy about where the philosophical comment originated, it’s been repeated often, and it is the general consensus of most who’ve had even little affiliation with horses.

Research at New Mexico State University (NMSU) at the Albuquerque Center backs up that belief.

“Equine-assisted psychotherapy is known to help people address mental and behavioral health issues,” according to Wanda Whittlesey-Jerome, associate professor in social work,

“Horses are prey animals, so they are constantly scanning their environments, so they sense if we are calm and balanced, or troubled and on-edge,  and react accordingly,” she insisted.

“Horses react to our inner feelings that we may not show outwardly. They teach us so much about ourselves, and can give us insight into what it means to be human,” Whittlesey-Jerome said.

Studies indicate equine-assisted psychotherapy has positive impacts on resilience, general self-efficacy, depression, anxiety and global functioning among highly stressed children and woman participants.

“Data shows that self-esteem increased as depression and anxiety decreased,” Whittlesey-Jerome said.

Non-profit equine therapy organizations hope to provide free equine-assisted psychotherapy to military families, including warriors and veterans.

“The Family Fun with Horses Program is an add-on to conventional treatments already available to these families,” Whittlesey-Jerome said. “We’re hopeful that overall family well-being and communication will improve for our military families served through this program.”

“Lt. Col. Bérnabé F. Whitfield at Kirtland Air Force Base has expressed strong support for the program, because of his deep concern about the increased numbers of suicides and divorces among his airmen,” Whittlesey-Jerome said.

Southwest Horsepower and Equine Therapeutic Connections, both in Albuquerque, will be conducting the free military family equine groups.

Whittlesey-Jerome will provide program evaluation services to help the agencies evaluate the effectiveness of the military family equine groups.

“The sessions consist of solving problems in groups within the context of being 100 percent on the ground with horses. Participants learn to negotiate and develop a mutual relationship with the horses built on trust and respect,” Whittlesey-Jerome said.

“At the same time, they learn to work together with other participants in new and creative ways that often lead to insight through metaphors that naturally develop in the arena with horses,” Whittlesey-Jerome added.

In one example, participants are asked to create an obstacle course with props such as traffic cones, plastic pipes, swim noodles, hoola hoops and buckets. The task is to get the horses, without halters or lead ropes, to move through the obstacle.

After completion of the task, the group members discuss their experiences and write or draw in journals or sketchpads about what they experienced in the session.

“It looks like we are just on the ground floor of what  equine-assisted psychotherapy can do,” Whittlesey-Jerome said.