Sometimes we save animals. Sometimes they save us. This is the goal at War Horse Creek, a program designed to help veterans who transition and adjust back to a civilian lifestyle after a very structured life of rules while in the military. Many veterans are dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or a traumatic brain injury, causing challenges in everyday life and feelings of isolation. They are looking for ways to feel safe.
“The veterans learn that the reactions you have are going to get the outcome that you want,” said Randall Harris, the founder of the program. “There’s nothing like concentrating on something until you get it done. When you’re training the horse, you’re never training the horse. You’re training yourself. The horse will always tell the truth and respond honestly.”
Veterans from all different branches of the military service united Saturday at Living Free Animal Sanctuary where War Horse Creek has been in the works since 2015. It’s quiet. The wind rustles the branches of the trees, the dirt and dust kicks up, but no one seems to mind. There’s a stillness as veterans and rescued mustangs learn from each other and begin to trust one another.
Just like any rescue animal, the horse’s background is unclear. Sometimes they’ve been abused and no longer trust humans. However, they meet anyone with the same amount of trust that the person is willing to meet them with. It’s like a mirror. The mustangs show veterans that the more they trust, the more the horse will also trust. It’s a mutual training and healing.
Many veterans are reluctant to engage in traditional “talk therapies” for a variety of reasons. It simply goes against the warfighter grain. However, stepping into a ring with a wild horse is a challenge well-suited for veterans. It gives them a sense of control, and they know they can impact the horse’s life dramatically in similar ways that they as veterans need. It all comes down to trust and safety.
As a U.S. Army Medical Service Officer in Vietnam, Floyd “Shad” Meshad began pioneering treatment techniques for PTSD. He is the founder of the National Veterans Foundation and founder of the VA’s Vet Center Program. Saturday was his first visit to Living Free Animal Sanctuary.
“A lot of vets are starting to come here to the War Horse Creek for therapy, and this program is so powerful,” Meshad said. “I’m just in awe and loving it. Any animal is just unconditional. They’ll love you no matter what. I’m just elated to be part of this program. We want to figure out how to get more veterans up here, and I’ll do whatever I can to promote it.”
Having the social interaction for the veterans is beneficial. Humans are social beings and having the support of fellow veterans helping each other levels the playing field. There’s a common bond between veterans that others don’t understand. At War Horse Creek, they are able to connect, talk, share and feel with each other, and of course, with the mustangs.