NEED FOR THERAPEUTIC RIDING PROGRAM;
Over 30% of all service people returning from battle deployments are diagnosed with PTSD. Efforts are made by the Battalion to provide these soldiers with exposure to indoor and outdoor sports and activities. Programs in swimming, scuba diving, volleyball and others create environments with mental stimulation, physical exertion and human interaction. Not enough programs exist to meet the current explosion of need caused by the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The future they face is challenging: Soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are twice as likely to commit suicide as the national average. Veterans account for 25% of all suicides in our country, and also 25% of all homeless in our country. The Veterans Administration says that over 2000 veterans of our current wars are homeless in the USA, despite their offers to provide government subsidized housing for them. More startling yet is that a total of 200,000 veterans are homeless today, most from the Viet Nam era. Although statistics do not show a large correlation between PTSD and homelessness, 45% of all homeless veterans participating in VA programs have some form of mental illness. Because of the magnitude of our current wars, this homeless veteran situation could easily explode in the coming years. Human lives are being lost into a pit of hopelessness on a mammoth scale today. Of the soldiers that are diagnosed with PTSD, 25% of the women and 35% of the men have problems with drug or alcohol abuse, twice the national averages. This situation is tragic from a humanitarian perspective and from an economic perspective. Even today our community services struggle with the costs of supporting Vietnam Veterans who were scarred mentally and did not receive needed rehabilitation. The potential impact to communities as a result of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts will be much larger by comparison.
Options available for helping are few: Depending upon the severity of trauma, some of these soldiers can expect to return to their active duty units within a year or more of rehabilitation efforts. Every individual case is unique and requires a willing effort by each soldier. Although the military is focusing much increased effort to address this challenge, the “problem” is close to overwhelming, and quick treatment is essential to the healing process. Clear-cut treatments are lacking, and sometimes drugs that “help” are provided. Seroquel is an anti-psychotic to help with sleeping by overcoming the nightmares common with PTSD. Use of this drug in recent years has skyrocketed, to make it the VA’s second leading prescription drug ($125 million/year). Problems with this drug have resulted in several deaths and thousands of lawsuits. Indeed, the scope of the medical problems facing our returning soldiers is great and the options available for helping these soldiers are fewer than desired.
What is Therapeutic Riding? The concept of using horses to provide therapy to humans is similar to the effective nature of dogs visiting shut-ins. As an outdoor activity, it is also similar to the athletic benefits provided to injured military by scuba diving and golf. However, one unique aspect of horse back riding makes it especially effective in dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). All horses have a behavior called hyper-reactivity, the fright and flight reaction to perceived threats. Well, soldiers diagnosed with PTSD have this same behavior. This means they react with great fear and anxiety to situations that are actually non-threatening. By showing the soldiers how to train horses not to be afraid of scary mud puddles in the trail (for example), they can see that fears they experience are not always justified and may be worth expending effort to overcome.
Is it effective? The practice of using horses as therapy animals for injured soldiers is relatively new (2006), and viable statistics on effectiveness do not exist. However, participating horse programs across the country are all experiencing overwhelming appreciation from the soldiers that participate. Most of the soldiers believe that their horse program is the single most effective part of their overall rehabilitation experience. A veteran’s panel of participating riders told Rainier Therapeutic Riding leaders and others that we had a moral obligation. We HAD to start a therapy program to help more soldiers and veterans like they had been helped.