VA Salt Lake City Health Care System
Equine Therapy Helps Veteran with Fear of Horses
Recreation is supposed to be fun, but US Navy Veteran Anna Kennedy was dreading the upcoming retreat. She didn’t sleep for days before and struggled to keep her anxiety in check. She managed to get through most of that first day despite her fear. It wasn’t until after dinner when the true panic set in. “I want to challenge myself, but I don’t think I can” she told Jen Thomas, one of the three Recreation Therapists who accompanied the group as they entered the building housing the arena. Anna hadn't been face to face with a horse since she sustained a TBI from a similar encounter several years ago.
As they got started, Ale, the facilitator from the National Ability Center, asked each member of the group how comfortable they were feeling. Each Veteran answered with a “one or two”, except for Anna. She was at a five, and visibly shaken, keeping a keen eye on the horses already in the arena. Most of the other Veterans didn’t know Anna’s story, but there was no judgment here. Ale had worked her magic and created a safe space, allowing the Veterans to open up about their feelings.
Anna watched from the sidelines as the other Veterans began interacting with the horses, still apprehensive and trying to gather her strength. When she finally took her first steps into the arena, the support of staff and fellow Veterans was palpable. Anna faced her fears head on. Our Rec Therapists will tell you this is why they come to work every day; to watch Veterans step over barriers, try new things, meet new people and engage in life again.
Later that evening as the group discussed the highlights of the day, over half of the Veterans expressed they felt empowered by seeing the transformation in Anna. “She was honest and authentic, and asked for help”. Something that is not easy for many Veterans. And as a group, they had experienced her fear, her transformation, and were inspired. With the sense of community Ale created, the felt they had all helped Anna, and “If Anna can overcome her fears, why can’t I?”