Veterans served well by horses
Purpose, peace, and the ability to continue moving forward are among the gifts the horses, many of them rescued, at Stillwater Ranch can provide to veterans readjusting to civilian life following deployment. The ranch, located near Loveland, Colo., is operated in the foothills under the watchful eye of Wendy Buckley, the executive director and co-founder, and her husband, John. Buckley said she’s always had a heart for rescue horses and veterans, alike, making the ability to bring the two together for the greatest benefit, a blessing to all involved.
The facility, established in 2014, provides ground-based equine psychotherapy. Aligning with the model of the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association, the sessions include an equine professional, a certified therapist, a horse, and the client. Buckley said the model is far from talk therapy with a horse present, but the veteran engages primarily with the horse. An experiential therapy, the veteran decides what type of interaction he or she has with the horse, which is there without a halter.
Oftentimes, depending upon the trauma experienced, the horse can represent a memory, place or even a person.
“The horse mirrors whatever the clients come in with,” she said. “It brings up a lot of metaphors. The horses become people that they know, an event, feelings, and then they can go work through that.”
Many clients come to the ranch after experiencing loss of someone, whether it was in combat, at home while they were deployed, or any number of other scenarios. When the horse metaphorically reminds him or her of someone lost, tears can be shed, things left unsaid can be verbalized, and goodbyes can be said.
The horses are very responsive, whether that’s positive or negative, and that allows the client to work through whatever trauma or issues are presented. Many of the horses come from a rescue facility, and others are older and can’t be ridden. Rescued horses, Buckley said, often come to the ranch with their own traumas and it’s interesting to watch some of the most traumatized horses connecting with some of the most traumatized clients.
Clients can take part in the therapy at no charge and are, in many cases, completing sessions for a year or more. Buckley, who is a mom of five grown children, said serving the families of veterans is also vital.
A guest ranch expansion and capital campaign to fund a property including family cabins, a fishing pond, gardens, an archery range, obstacle and rope courses, walking and riding trails, is currently planned to allow more veterans to be served and will allow the families to also participate and be a part of the healing process.
“We’re starting to work more with families which is very exciting for us because that’s our heart,” she said. “You can help the veteran but we know that if you don’t help the whole family unit, they’ll get stuck. They’re all affected by what’s going on.”
Learning about the facility has been through word of mouth and by recommendations from a veteran who has completed a program to one who might benefit. There is currently a waiting list but interested veterans and their families can learn more at stillwaterranch.org.
— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 392-4410.