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NEWS | Sept. 27, 2021

Saddle Up! Therapeutic Program Uses Horses to Help Soldiers

ARLINGTON, Va. — Soldiers assigned to the Fort Hood Soldier Recovery Unit, Texas, take part in an adaptive reconditioning experience that can’t be had in an office setting or gym environment. Those participating in this unique program can be found outdoors, on horseback, in McGregor, Texas.

It’s all part of a therapeutic horseback riding program that began this past spring and is offered every month except July and August.

“Our Soldiers most frequently comment on the peacefulness of being outdoors and around the animals,” said Recreation Therapist Amy Summers.

Soldiers perform ground work and learn horse safety and riding skills, Summers explained. Participation is varied by each individual’s health goals and current physical ability. The program provides volunteers and instructors who are taught how to support the Soldiers.

And then, there’s the horses. They are trained for the program and chosen for each participant based on each horse’s size and temperament.

There’s more to it than sunshine, fresh air and animals. Summers said that therapeutic horseback riding offers benefits, such as movement, balance, communication skills, social interaction and relaxation. She also noted that horses reflect the behavior and mood of the people near them, which provides an emotional regulation benefit.

Maj. Eva I. Owen is a Soldier assigned to the Fort Hood SRU. She tried therapeutic horseback riding for the first time in June and will participate again when it reopens in the fall. For her, the best part was that it empowered her to gain self-control. She said the program is highly organized, which made her feel safe “on any level” with the trainer’s assistance.

“I immediately felt a sense of peace when I learned to connect with my horse,” Owen said.

In the beginning, she had to overcome a challenge.

“I quickly had to learn how to relax and set aside my tension, increased level of anxiety, and all negative emotions in order to communicate better with my horse,” she said.

Relaxation training is provided before the horse is introduced, Owen said.

“If the horse is calm and follows your commands, you know that you achieved that challenge,” she said.

The program also has a lighthearted aspect that might not be expected. Summers mentioned that the horses each have different personalities.

“Some are extremely docile and some are playful and will test boundaries,” she said. “Some of the horses have to be brought out into the arena even if they are not being used at the time because they don’t like being separated from the other horses.”

Summers encourages those who want to take part in therapeutic horseback riding to do so and to verify that the program is certified by an outside organization.

“Those are certifications held by the program that leave no doubt that the provider has been trained on how to provide therapeutic services to people with physical limitations and behavioral health issues,” she said.

The Army Warrior Care and Transition Program is now the Army Recovery Care Program. Although the name has changed, the mission remains the same: to provide quality complex case management to the Army's wounded, ill and injured Soldiers.