In October 2018, Running W Therapeutic Riding Center launched a program to help veterans working through the aftereffects of their time serving our country. This program is offered to wounded service personnel, active-duty members, and victims of sexual assault in the military.
Three Main Goals of WildFreedom:
1) Equip veterans with sustainable tools for healing.
2) Help veterans leave with a greater sense of self-worth, stemming from making peace with their pasts.
3) Provide veterans with a positive outlook on their futures and hope for the life that is ahead of them.
We have partnered with the Vet Center in Spokane to offer this program to veterans already receiving counseling services. Running W Ranch currently provides this at no charge, as we consider this a small way to give back to those who have given so much. Because we do not charge for this program, it runs entirely on the generosity of donors like you. Thank you to those who give! You are helping veterans along their path to healing.
There are three phases, with each phase being a four week session. We meet every Friday for three hours. The course is designed to introduce the principles of natural horsemanship as a way to help veterans gain the trust, respect, and willingness needed to reenter the civilian world. Horses are phenomenal partners that provide honest and immediate feedback. They help us understand how we are being perceived, which provides opportunity for internal reflection and growth.
Phase One is learning grooming and groundwork, focusing on connection with the horse. Phase Two is grooming, groundwork, learning about tack and advancing towards riding - partnership. Phase Three is grooming, groundwork and learning to ride - trust.
Equine facilitated learning is very beneficial in helping to assist in physical and emotional healing. Horses are highly reactive and mimic human emotions requiring calm and non-reactive communications, which promotes emotional awareness, emotion regulation, self-control, and impulse modulation. Working with horses in a therapeutic setting offers instant and constant feedback to participants, requires physical strength and balance, and is highly motivational – combining to make an exceptionally effective rehabilitation environment.
With our experienced instructors and supportive horses, the self-control, self-esteem, self-confidence, and independence of the participants grow. We strive to improve, emotionally empower and socially enhance the lives of veterans and active duty members giving us an opportunity to serve those who have served us.
When we first began this program, we didn't know what to expect - we simply wanted to give back to our local veteran population. What we have seen since our first class has been nothing short of miraculous; we have watched these brave men and women heal, open up, take down emotional walls, reach personal growth goals, and move forward from traumatic experiences.
Working with horses as a form of therapy for veterans is incredibly effective for a number of reasons:
Horses only operate in the moment. They are present in what is going on now and help our veterans engage in the reality they find themselves in. They model what it looks like to find appreciation in each moment, grateful for the gift that each one is.
Horses are honest. These gentle teachers communicate how we are presenting ourselves and help us to be aware of the atmosphere we are creating. When we try to work with a horse while denying our own inner conflict, we don't get far. Equines are incredibly intuitive and aware of the emotional states of those around them. They will shut down or not allow progress when we are not being congruent outwardly with how we are feeling inwardly.
Horses don't judge. Many veterans working with their equine companions find the foundation for healthy relationships in this partnership. Horses don't know how to hold a grudge and accept us for who we are in the moment. Mistakes are reconciled, forgiven, and forgotten.
Horses bring a peace to their surroundings. One of the most common phrases we hear from our veterans is that they feel calm when leaving after a session. Most of them suffer from PTSD and anxiety - up to 24% of military servicemen and women. One focus of our program is the practice of being aware of one's mental and physical state. We also emphasize focusing on how the horse is feeling as a veteran works with them. This awareness has helped a number of participants cope with anxiety and provided an aid when experiencing PTSD-related symptoms.
Horses promote an emotionally safe environment. One of our highest priorities in the WildFreedom program is creating a safe place for people to work through past traumas and pursue healing. Our trained therapy horses help facilitate that environment. We also have a certified mental health professional from the Spokane Vet Center who participates in all of our sessions and is available to work with veterans on site at our facility. As with our other programs, our volunteers are screened to ensure participation is a good fit.
Effectiveness of Equine Therapy with Veterans
"There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for inside of a man"