Thankfully, the horses and staff at a therapeutic riding center are only interested in providing support, compassion, a helping hand (or hoof) and education. The horses have no stigma about a person with mental health issues. The horses only want to know if you can learn their language. The horses know the right answer, a veteran just has to learn to ask the right question. Fortunately this is a language that a talented program director can teach brilliantly, with love and compassion for both the veteran and the horse.
Veterans participating in the program learn communication, patience, trust, mindfulness, respect and boundaries. These are all common themes at mental health programs. At a therapeutic riding center veterans are able to put them into practice in a more relaxed atmosphere where they are never made to feel wrong. The program staff and their horses teach veterans about mutual respect in the form of building a caring leader and partner relationship. These are things that many veterans in mental health programs have not experienced in a positive manner in years.
The caring staff allow the veteran to learn in a safe environment, with powerful majestic animals that give honest feedback because a horse has no ulterior motives. They will communicate in powerful and subtle ways, asking questions, giving answers, but never judging whether the veteran is wrong or right. Each action is not positive or negative, but merely a response to the input the horse is receiving. Veterans learn the importance of establishing boundaries, as a horse will test their leadership. Horses seek a leader, someone to respect, someone to protect the herd. It always seems the right horse finds the right veteran to provide that leadership. As veterans learn to earn the horses respect it gives the veteran a feeling of accomplishment, achievement and pride. Maybe a feeling that they haven’t felt in years. It helps restore a sense of dignity. They leave their session with a smile on their face, standing a little taller and a little straighter.
At a therapeutic riding center veterans find compassion, support, guidance, and gentle direction. They find a place where they can heal. They find a place without the stressors of an inpatient mental health system. A place where they can express their emotions with the beautiful creatures that provide honest and supportive feedback. There is a sense of calm and peace about the center, its staff, and the horses who are so beautifully trained to provide therapeutic support.