“Aligning Veterans’ Strengths with Horses’ Freedom for Healing”
Soul to Soles Connection is dedicated to providing a space for Veterans and their families to overcome life’s challenges. Our heroes are offered a tranquil space and the time they need to heal and grow.
In the article, Four-Legged Therapist Making a Difference, the client said "That moment with Archie (the horse) was a breakthrough for me. I was confronted with the fact that maybe the way I’m doing things isn’t the way people are going to respond best. Horses or people.”
How often are we disconnected or misunderstand by those around us? Is it them OR is it us? Do we ever take a step back to see things from a different perspective?
Our model, which involves no riding, incorporates horses, a mental health professional and an equine specialist to customize a program for each Veteran. Our Veterans learn through hands-on activities with the horses where the focus is on action, not talking. We do discuss their time with the horses and how they relate to everyday life.
The farm and the horses transform into metaphors. The horses respond to nonverbal communication, and are able to assist the Veterans with their human communication. It encourages the participants to find solutions to problems by learning to rely on themselves and those around them. During their sessions, the participants can encounter frustrations similar to what they deal with outside the farm and by working with the horses, they learn to overcome the frustrations. The Veterans are not judged by the horses and are able to make decisions with confidence. Montana VA Health Care System
How can Horses Heal our Veterans?
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"Geriatric Veterans with cognitive deficits often struggle with feelings of being an observer of their own life. The very nature of Alzheimer's, Dementia's, Parkinson's threatens to rob a person of their individuality, their personal memories and the ability to meaningfully connect with others. Many of their daily choices are now decided and acted out by medical staff persons. While healthcare has come a long way in becoming person-centered and "Homelike", which are measures to be appreciated ... truly living in the moment, celebrating one's life as it presently is ... remains a dim glow in everyday skilled nursing care.
Humans have an innate desire to belong, be a part of something bigger than themselves. And the need, perhaps especially for Veterans, to know they are making a difference. When our Veterans feel they are connected, making a difference, that is when the dim glow becomes a spark, a flame! When our Veterans roll onto Willow Equine, submerged in an environment that both comforts and energizes, a subtle reminder of home and the independence of their youth ... Eagala becomes the perfect catalyst for what our Veterans need most. The ability to connect and be present. An opening to just be. No judgment, no confusion, no power struggle. Simply the opportunity to bask in the presence of a large animal that seems to accept them as they are. The ability to meaningfully impact their environment.
Willow Equine allows the Veteran to bask in sensory stimulation ... enjoy the warm beams of sunshine that rest upon cheekbones, or catch a whiff of honeysuckle while being serenaded by a chorus of birds chirping. Simple freedoms such as these are a gentle reminder of all that Veterans, and their family members, sacrifice to protect our homeland and the liberties offered to all residing here. Despite the magnitude of what these Veterans faced in combat, a trip to the farm leaves them filled with gratitude. They understand that these simple freedoms are anything but simple.
The bus ride back to the VA is traditionally bursting with both enthusiastic chatter and a calm confidence of knowing their morning mattered. And the question is always the same "When are we going back?""
Terri Gilbeau, CTRS
VA Medical Center, Salisbury, North Carolina