Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy for Veterans

Rob Johnson and one of his off-the-track Standardbreds. Photo courtesy Rob Johnson

Rob Johnson and one of his off-the-track Standardbreds. Photo courtesy Rob Johnson

Many inspiring stories have crossed my desk this summer about horse people helping veterans with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  The press release I received last week, though, was the most inspiring of all because of the level of support one person’s efforts have received.

How veterans benefit from equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP) is well documented.  Here is a story from the Summer 2013 issue of Draft Horse Journal about a veteran plowing with a team of draft horses:  “[Veteran Seth Connell] found working with the Belgians to be just what he needed to help his recovery.  ‘Walking along behind them and smelling the fresh turned earth was such a good feeling.  It gave me hope again,’ Connell says.  Working with the horses was soothing in a way no other therapy had been.”  (1)

And here is feedback from Veterans Administration Medical Center psychologist Dr. Rusty Reynolds:  “From a clinical view, the [Children, Horses and Adults in Partnership] program met and exceeded expectations.  All of the participants’ symptoms were reduced as a result of the program, but what was also evident was the accelerated rate at which this occurred.  My colleague Dr. Benson and I were more than satisfied.” (2)

Turning a passion for horses into a viable business is challenging, to say the least.  Many people have a hard time even getting close to operating in the black.  EAP programs are especially challenging because not only are there the expenses associated with the horse and the horse handler but also the therapist.  According to Nancy Masters in her Master of Nursing thesis in 2010, “The primary road blocks are the lack of insurance reimbursement for EAP therapy and the high cost of initiating an EAP practice setting.” (3)

The press release I received had good news related to both of these road blocks.   Horses for Healing, located in Albuquerque, has recently been awarded a state-level contract with the Behavioral Health Services Division of New Mexico.  Owner and founder Clair Ann Barr-Johnson says, “The exciting thing about this contract is that it provides support services for veterans and their families who have no insurance.” (4)  The second bit of good news for EAP was that Barr-Johnson’s non-profit has qualified for a loan from ACCION, a microfinance organization serving Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado.  Having worked with ACCION myself, I know they require realistic business financials, so I can conclude that Barr-Johnson has a plan to overcome the financial challenges that most equine-related businesses face.

I have been fortunate to recently become acquainted with Rob Johnson, a Vietnam-era veteran who has pursued a personal form of equine-assisted therapy to deal with his PTSD symptoms.  Rob has taken more than 400 off-the-track Standardbreds and retrained them for pleasure-driving, giving them useful lives.  “They were a release for me. I didn’t know what was wrong with me.  It was years before I went to the doctors about my problem and was diagnosed as suffering from PTSD.” (5)

I so admire men like Rob and the veteran Seth Connell mentioned above not only for their service but also for their courage in dealing with the aftermaths of that service.  And I admire Clair Ann Barr-Johnson for finding a way to make a viable equine business that has such a noble cause.

  1. Helzel, Cynthia Bombach.  “Draft Horses Lead the Way to Recovery for Minnesota Veterans,” Draft Horse Journal, Summer 2013, P.47
  2. http://www.horsesandhumans.org/Veterans_Fact_Sheet_HHRF.pdf
  3. http://saddlesforsoldiers.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/EquineVeteransPTSD.pdf
  4. “Horses For Healing Awarded Major State Contract! Read more about this Accion client!”, ACCION enewsletter, www.accionnm.org, 9/5/13
  5. Email from Rob Johnson to Jenifer Morrissey, 4/9/13, number c.

(c) Jenifer Morrissey, 2013

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About workponies

Breeder of Fell Ponies, teamster of work ponies, and author of Feather Notes, Fell Pony News, and A Humbling Experience: My First Few Years with Fell Ponies. Distributor of Dynamite Specialty Products for the health of our planet and the beings I share it with.
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2 Responses to Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy for Veterans

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