Friday, October 5, 2012

Horses Aid Military Veterans

Horses are amazing healers.  I am so glad these veterans can be part of this program and ride the horses so they can feel better and stronger.  Even just spending time with horses can help heal the veterans from both physical and emotional wounds.  What's really cool is that all of this program's volunteers are veterans.  I think that makes it even more powerful and special, because they really know how the other person is feeling and can help them more, since they are soldiers too.  ~Declan

Horses aid military veterans

Posted: Oct 01, 2012 4:42 PM EDTUpdated: Oct 01, 2012 5:58 PM EDT
By Beth Galvin, FOX Medical Team reporter

For full story and video, click here.

A local program is using the healing power of horses to reach out to military veterans. For one injured former sailor, a laidback horse named Anakin has been life-changing.

Miriam Birdsong hadn't ridden on a horse since she was a camp counselor almost 30 years ago, but when she found Anakin, she found something to hold onto -- a horse she sensed knew her, and understood her. And maybe a horse who could help her heal.

When Miriam Birdsong grooms Anakin, the rest of the world fades away. She's no longer a Navy veteran or a traumatic brain injury survivor, She's a rider with her horse.

"Anakin is the extension of me, so as, we work as a team, I'm steering, and he feels everything that I'm doing," said Birdsong.

A patient at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Decatur, Miriam drives herself to the Calvin Center in Hampton every Friday morning. For a few hours, she rides through the pain and paralysis that are part of her life now.

"But since my legs aren't strong, then Anakin has four legs for me and it makes me feel really good," said Birdsong.

That's what keeps the Warriors & Horses volunteers, all of them vets, coming back for one more chance to serve.

Sara Reams heard about the Horses & Warriors program and got the program on its feet here at the Calvin Center.

"I love horses, and I love our veterans," said Reams. "The horse is there for every single one of those clients in whatever way that can be what they need. They understand grief, they understand a whole range of emotions. They don't care, they just want to be there with you."

Phil Hanna, an Fayetteville Army veteran who served two tours in Vietnam, says he knew almost nothing about horses when he volunteered three years ago, but working with the vets has changed him.

"To see the courage that they have -- it's an honor for me to volunteer, to see the courage that some of the wounded warriors have to get on a horse and meddle with a horse," said Hanna.

Sometimes the volunteers can see the scars of war, sometimes they can't. They're there for support. It's up the rider to lead the horse.

"They're well-protected from the four people around them helping them out, but the horse is going to do what they ask them to do in that saddle," said Chip Johnson.

"And we had one guy that was so afraid the first time out, and now he can't wait to come out, he wants to get on his horse and ride to Dallas," said Hanna.

Miriam and Anakin can't wait to get out of the ring.

"That's my favorite, and I think it's his, too, because we don't like going in circles," said Birdsong.

And, that's the magic. On Anakin, Miriam can push forward, going wherever life takes her.

"I feel just like I'm active. I just feel really good," said Birdsong.

The Horses and Warriors program is run entirely by veterans for veterans.

The clients have to be referred by their doctor, but it's all free, paid for by scholarships and donations.

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