Equine therapy used in PTSD treatment

A veteran describes the benefits of his experience with recent equine therapy sessions out at a ranch in Wycliffe.

Using equine therapy has helped veterans treat and manage their PTSD.

Using equine therapy has helped veterans treat and manage their PTSD.

A recent government funding announcement has the potential to go a long way towards studying a novel treatment for veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Announced by Veterans Affairs earlier this week, the federal government is providing $250,000 to research the benefits of equine therapy for military veterans who are living with PTSD.

It’s a treatment that hits close to home in the region, as a veterans group based out of Kimberley have been using the therapy, which has gone a long way to helping local veterans manage their symptoms.

PTSD is classified as an anxiety disorder and symptoms can manifest if an individual experiences a traumatic events.

Military Ames, a group headed up by Cindy Postnikoff out of Kimberley, is an organization created to provide camaraderie and a safe environment for local veterans to stay connected with each other.

“This news that the government is going to do some research is a great thing, because if Veterans Affairs would recognize it, there would be a lot more veterans that would benefit from it,” Postnikoff said.

Back in April, Postnikoff, along with a few veterans, did a set of six sessions using equine therapy out at a ranch in Wycliffe to help treat and manage PTSD symptoms.

A veteran, who requested anonymity to protect his privacy, participated in the sessions and said equine therapy has helped treat his PTSD symptoms.

“It’s pretty cool—it’s the benefit of getting a veteran out of the house and into something where they’re focusing on an activity and it’s a new experience, maybe pushing their comfort zone, which a lot of vets that are suffering, really have a hard time getting out,” he said.

“It’s a lot easier to hide in your basement or stay in your house and not go out and deal with people or be concerned about being laughed at because a car backfires and you dive for the ground.”

The veteran served with the Canadian Forces during peacekeeping missions in Bosnia the 1990s and also in other countries during his military service.

To start off the equine therapy sessions, each veteran chooses a horse that they find a connection with and a facilitator will note in which ways the horse mirrors behaviour of the individual.

As an example, the veteran explained one of the exercises of the session that he participated in.

“I participated in a few things, like an exercise where I bring this horse over here and pick a few points in this field that you want to walk the horse around to,” he said.

“And then, it’s how I interact with the horse and how the horse reacts to my interaction. Basically, the horse didn’t want to be pulled around the field, which is exactly like me—if someone tries to make me go somewhere, I dig my heels in.

So it’s that kind of thing, where it’s just a mirroring of your own issues and then there’s opportunities for some really magical connections.”

While it may not sound like something revolutionary, it’s in observing the interactions between the individual and the horse that can be applied to real-life situations outside the therapy sessions, he said.

“Like leading the horse around, if someone is telling me what to do, or if I’m trying to get somebody else to do something, I’m going to think more, which is going to allow me more rational action,” the veteran said.

“So that’s a big thing for PTSD I think, is just having a reminder to really consider what’s going on in our circumstance, rather than just reacting.”

A 2013 survey from the Canadian Armed Forces revealed that 5.3 per cent of members reported experiencing PTSD in the prior year. The veteran also noted that military members, or civilians for that matter, don’t even have to leave home in order for PTSD symptoms to appear.

Though he had been in counselling for almost two years, the equine therapy was a new avenue of treatment that has made an immediate impact on his mental health, he said.

“I’m not sure if it’s really new, I just think it’s something that hasn’t been explored or appreciated and, for myself, I really didn’t have an expectation of it helping me when I first went in,” he said.

“Coming out the other side, it’s like those real-people testimonies ‘Oh, yeah, this really works, it’s cool’

“I didn’t realize it was going to be such a positive driving impact.”

Military Ames meets twice a month in Kimberley as a way for veterans to connect through the bonds forged by military service. For more information about the organization, contact Postnikoff at 250-919-3137.