GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Our final Connecting with Community Awards finalist offers a unique take on the therapeutic experience by allowing veterans to help care for rescued race horses.
Out Side In Stables started as a equine therapy center for children in need of trauma care. The stables quickly added veterans into the mix though, noting that they were also in need of an unique type of care.
“I started seeing the parallels between the thoroughbreds coming in off the track and the veterans coming home. They have a lot of the same issues,” said Executive Director Jennifer McVoy, “When the horses come off the track, it’s a new environment they have to adjust to. They don’t have a lot of social skills, they aren’t always that trusting, so a lot of the same things the veterans experience when coming home.”
Veterans in the Horses for Heroes program help take care of various horses and also train them. The goal is for the former race horses to be adopted to new homes. McVoy and her team have worked to make sure that veterans could come to the stables and receive the therapy they needed, but also have a hands on approach with the animals.
“I could see a therapist once every 6 to 8 weeks, and this program was offering the opportunity to work not only with other vets or horses, but also with therapists twice a week for two hours. So it made it pretty easy for me,” Vietnam vet Charles Stefanich explained.
Working with the horses at Out Side In has really helped Stefanich and the other veterans that attend the program. “So many of the different aspects of PTSD seem to float away while I’m here,” Stefanich said, while Terry Morris, a veteran of Desert Storm, commented “It gives me a sense of worth sometimes that I’m actually taking care of something, not just myself or my family.”
The veterans are able to develop a routine with the horses, cleaning their stalls, feeding them, and even grooming them. Being around the horses allows the veterans to see first hand what emotions they might be exhibiting from their issues like PTSD. “The veterans can sense when their anxiety is high and see how the horses react. It gives them a bit of practice recognizing that and things that they can do with their anxiety, so they don’t impact the horses.” -Jennifer McVoy
“What I get from these horses is unbelievable. It’s a therapy you’re not going to get at an office.” -Charles Stefanich
To learn more about Out Side In’s programs, visit their site here. On May 24th we will pick the Connecting with Community winner, so mark your calendars!