How horse therapy helps treat veterans’ PTSD

Fred Krapf’s upright bearing and taut diction bespeak his 32 years in the U.S. Army. If you ask him to spell his last name, he does so like this: “KILO ROMEO ALPHA PAPA FOXTROT.” But his decades of experience in military intelligence throughout Germany, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia shadow him in other ways, namely profound anger and mistrust, which come out as road rage.

Now he’s making peace with his past on a six-acre farm in Washington state with a horse named Sir.

Equine therapy is figuring ever larger in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ quest to help the 25 percent of veterans who, like Krapf, suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. About 30 VA medical centers across the country now offer horse therapy for service members.

Yuval Neria, professor of medical psychology and director of Columbia University Medical Center’s PTSD Treatment and Research Program, and his colleague Prudence Fisher of Columbia University, are examining equine therapy’s efficacy. Neria says about 50 percent of veterans don’t even apply to be treated for PTSD. Others who do seek treatment are often not helped by current therapies and medication.

Krapf was among them. But “I was immediately, absolutely comfortable,” he says of his equine-therapy experiences. “It’s not the guy with the glasses and the knee over knee taking notes while someone’s spilling their guts.” He says with horses “people can get a better handle on things that are bothering them.”

Nurse Sonja Wingard usually wears muck boots and a barn coat to work with Krapf and other veterans at Animals as Natural Therapy, a facility just north of Bellingham, Washington. She grew up on the 100-year-old farm and raised most of the 20 horses who live there. She started the veterans program seven years ago and works with assorted trained therapists.

Being married to a former serviceman gives her insight. Her husband is nearing 70 “and he still cannot sit with his back to the door in restaurants.” It’s almost as if he can’t come off being on lifelong patrol, she explains.

“They always want to know who’s coming and who’s going” she says of vets. “They had to put emotions aside to do what they needed to do. So to get in touch with their emotions again and start to get tender with the people in their lives, they have to get tender with the horse first.”

Equine therapy often focuses on seemingly simple actions, such as …read more

Source:: The Week – Health

      

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