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Study of Horse Therapy For Vets Shows Positive Early Results

Study of Horse Therapy For Vets Shows Positive Early ResultsCombat veterans diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) were less depressed and experienced fewer symptoms after participating in a new local therapeutic horseback-riding program, according to a study conducted by the UCF College of Medicine. The study followed eight Central Florida veterans who sustained physical and emotional injuries through combat in Iraq, Afghanistan or Vietnam. They were the first to go through a new eight–week Horses and Heroes equestrian program coordinated by UCF, Heavenly Hoofs, and SADLES of Umatilla.
The study found that by working with horses that are ultrasensitive to emotions and nonverbal communication, the veterans increased their emotional awareness, elevated their mood and better modulated their emotions.
“The biggest factor for these veterans was that working with the horses made them feel safe and secure,” said Dr. Manette Monroe, an assistant dean for students at the College of Medicine and a lifelong horse rider. She was the study’s lead author. “Most of these guys had never been on a horse in their lives, so to get up on a 1,000 pound animal pushes them beyond their comfort zone. But they were willing to try. And by putting themselves out there, they feel increased confidence and inner peace.”
Equestrian therapy is a relatively new approach to PTSD. So far little scientific study exists on the programs that do exist in some parts of the nation. That’s why Monroe is working to set up a national equestrian therapy center in Osceola County that would be properly staffed to document what works and why and develop best practices. That way more veterans could benefit from good programs.
Osceola County commissioners recently approved building a center at the county’s Chisolm Park, just minutes from the UCF medical school. The facility will include indoor arenas, which would be available for year-round therapy sessions. The center is scheduled for completion by spring.
Lido Santos, one of the participants in the program, is eager to see the program expand. He hopes more study will be done quickly so others can benefit from the work in Orlando. Santos lost one of his legs at the hip in Iraq and rides without a prosthetic.
“This therapy really does save lives,” Santos said. “The sensitivity of horses was what really stuck with me — that a creature this big could be so sensitive he can feel a fly on his back.”