Veterans and their family members visited the campus near Marley’s Mission to learn about a program called Equines for Freedom at the organization’s first-ever open house April 30.
Equines for Freedom is a non-profit organization, which offers free equine-assisted PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) treatment to current and former US service members. Children had the opportunity to pet the horses while adults talked to staff members and graduates of Equines for Freedom.
Dallas resident Ryan Rother, a veteran who had been deployed in Iraq, and his son, Charlie, attended the event. Ryan recalls attending a program in California similar to Equines for Freedom called The Sparta Project.
“It was five-and-a-half days of intense treatment,” he said, explaining why he signed up to attend sessions of Equines for Freedom.
Inside the barn, educational exhibits displayed the organization’s programs and upcoming events such as a golf tournament in June and a wine festival in July. Equine specialist Brooke Herman and mental health professional Marica Ramey sold T-shirts sporting the organization’s logo.
The idea of an open house began when EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing)-certified equine specialist Heather Stage and Ann Marie Lewis, M.A., a Pennsylvania licensed psychologist and founder of Equines for Freedom, talked about ways of obtaining new clients. They decided on an open house so potential clients could learn firsthand what the program has to offer.
“We decided it would be a good idea to invite everyone out and promote our upcoming events,” said Stage.
Barbara Cocolin, president of Equines for Freedom, led a presentation.
“We are more than happy with the outcome that we are experiencing so far,” she said.
Stage introduces veterans to horses up the hill near Marley’s Mission, which provides equine therapy to children, to allow them to choose a horse on their very first day in the program.
“It’s a really huge part of our program in that relationship building,” she said.
Lewis explained there are about 14 sessions, depending on the individual, for the veteran to get comfortable with the horse.
“Some people are afraid of horses,” she said. “Some people have never been around a horse and that’s OK because you find out that horses are very social creatures, and they really want to connect with you. So, we depend on that bond between the horse and the veteran.”
Lewis also mentioned the motive of the program is to keep the veterans in the present, allowing them to forget about the past.
RJ Lacelle, a 4-year US Marine who served in Afghanistan and was stationed in First Battalion Third Marines in MCBH ( Base Hawaii), shared his experience with Equines for Freedom. He attended Equines for Freedom after his fiancee, Danielle Frederick, convinced him to attend. He acknowledged that Stage monitored how the horse, whom he called Dusty, reacted to him. He also said Lewis’ therapy by tapping on his back helped him with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder).
“It allows me to put a positive note on stressful/negative/traumatic (experiences),” he said, noting his gratefulness of being a graduate of the program. “Whatever bad memory was affecting me, it allows me to put a positive spin on it. That way, I’m not overanalyzing the past. I’m staying in the present, able to pass over that thought and move on with my day.”