Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Warriors in Transition - Horses Help Veterans Coming Home From War

These loving understanding horses are helping veterans come home.  I'm so glad that they can interact and work with the horses to help them heal!  ~Declan

'Warriors in Transition' horses help veterans coming home from war

Jan 31, 2013   As posted on Coloradoan
By Sarah Jane Kyle

Veteran Bob Lecy lets Max, a Tennesee Walker, roll over Thursday to get comfortable before a therapy session at Fifth Element Ranch in Loveland. Warriors in Transition is a equine-related therapeutic program that helps veterans with issues they may have after war. / V. Richard Haro/Coloradoan

Nestled in the foothills of Loveland, Tara Pogoda is trying to work a little horse magic on veterans from both recent wars and conflicts past.

To be fair, she “hates to use the word magic”; but in the couple of hours I spent with her on a Thursday morning, she couldn’t come up with a better word to describe the bond between the veterans she’s working with in equine-assisted therapy and their hoofed companions.

Pogoda recently started implementing a program called “Warriors in Transition” at her ranch in Loveland, Fifth Element Ranch. Though she’s certified and works with a variety of clients beside veterans, Warriors in Transition is a program she’s trying to provide at no cost to the men and women who serve or have served our country.

Unlike many of the equine therapy programs I’ve focused on in this column previously, Warriors in Transition looks more at the “heart” of things, focusing almost exclusively on emotional healing over the physical.

Pogoda’s process starts with a client just observing a horse in its stall and coming to terms with his or her emotional state. Exercises become progressively more hands-on to include walking around with the animal and getting the horse to perform certain “tricks.”

The horse becomes her “tattletale” to issues that need to be worked on within the veteran, using snorts or a resistance to comply with instructions until the veteran faces a certain issue.

“The horse reads the insights I can’t see and the the things the human may not want to see,” Pogoda said. “In the world of combat veterans, it’s called compartmentalizing, but the horse knows where it is and wants to help you.”

For Vietnam veteran Bob Lecy, 65, of Longmont, his buddy Max, a beloved Tennessee Walker trained in equine-assisted therapy, has drastically changed the way he responds to the trauma he experienced returning from war.

When he first started working with the program as a volunteer and in therapy, he “wouldn’t crack a smile.” When I met him, he couldn’t stop grinning around Max, hugging his neck and leaning his head on the horse’s shoulder.

“He’s my bud,” Lecy told me. “(Doing horse therapy) was more than just an eye-opener; it was a heart opener.”

Though it’s been decades since his combat experience, Lecy said the program has already given him tremendous healing. He hopes more programs such as this will become available to soldiers returning from war in the current generation, including his fellow volunteer Matthew Jarrett, 30, of Pierce. Jarrett drives 45 minutes to volunteer with the program and spend time with horses because of the therapeutic effect it’s had on him. He’s an Army veteran who served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004.

“It helps us break things down,” Jarrett said. “What is PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)? We break that down into feelings — anger, sadness, depression — and don’t allow it to be lumped into a label. Instead we break it down into something we can work with.”

“We didn’t have programs like this after Vietnam,” Lecy added. “We didn’t understand what PTSD was or meant. I’m grateful I can do it now, and I’m even more grateful these programs are becoming available for recent vets. I don’t want them to go through the stuff we went through back then.”

Veteran Matthew Jarrett praises Max, a therapy horse, after she stepped on a block of wood Thursday at Fifth Element Ranch in Loveland. Warriors in Transition is a equine-related therapy program for veterans. / V. Richard Haro/Coloradoan

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