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Horses help veterans readjust, cope, heal

As an Air Force veteran, Amanda Thompson knows soldiers returning with post traumatic stress and other emotional disorders often don't get much help readjusting, coping, and healing.

So when the lifelong equestrian learned about the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association — a nonprofit organization that provides education and other resources for those using horses for therapy and learning — she decided to become a certified equine specialist.

Nearly a year later, Ms. Thompson of Grand Rapids hopes the organization she founded, Healing of Veterans through Equine Assisted Services, or HOOVES, will be able to help veterans from northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.

Counselor Jody Franks, an equestrian from the Weston area, will work alongside Ms. Thompson during therapy sessions for veterans.

“Being a veteran, I know there's not a whole lot for them as far as getting help,” said Ms. Thompson, who also is a recovered victim of post traumatic stress from childhood trauma.

She added: “There's just not enough out there for them.”

A fund-raiser will be held Jan. 16 to launch HOOVES sessions at Vail Meadows Equestrian Riding Center in Oregon, which is providing its arena, horses, and personnel for the program. Ms. Thompson is seeking nonprofit status for HOOVES

The fund-raiser with food, entertainment, and a silent auction will be from 2-8 p.m. Jan. 16 at the Ohio National Guard 180th Fighter Wing's NCO Club, 2600 South Eber Rd., near its base at Toledo Express Airport.

Ms. Thompson, now an Ohio National Guard staff sergeant, said HOOVES will begin Feb. 1 no matter how many donations the organization receives. And veterans will not be charged for the help, she said.

“Most of them have given enough,” said Laurie Holmes of Perrysburg, who has a son in the military and is helping with HOOVES. She also plans to become a certified equine specialist through the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association.

Joy Vail, one of the founders of Vail Meadows, said veterans' therapy fits in well with other types of equine programs done at the riding center.

“It's just a great idea, bringing people and horses together,” she said.

Eventually, Ms. Thompson said, she plans to seek grants, including funds from the federal government. Research on equine-assisted therapy being done by Dr. Joseph Lancia, a psychiatrist in upstate New York who is Ms. Thompson's mentor, will help strengthen her case, she said.

Veterans primarily will work on team building and other concepts during weekly sessions for as long as needed. New participants, for example, may be asked to saddle horses while staying in physical contact with everyone in the group and then discuss the experience, said Ms. Thompson of Riverbend Stables and Equestrian Center.

Vail Meadows has 13 therapy horses, including an 1,800-pound Belgian and a 28-inch tall miniature stallion. Ms. Thompson also will use a couple of her Mustangs, said Wendy Vail-Heskett, the Oregon riding center's head instructor.

“Each different breed offers something different for their riders,” she said. HOOVES is seeking veterans interested in getting group therapy with other veterans or family members. Equine-assisted therapy is recognized by both the National Board of Certified Counselors and American Psychological Association, said Ms. Franks, who has a daughter and son-in-law serving in the military and is caring for their children. “With my interest in both disciplines, it's been quite intriguing,” she said of counseling and using pets as co-therapists.

More information about HOOVES is available by calling 419-930-7936.