YOUR HEALTH: Horses are good medicine

ORLANDO, Florida – Disabled veterans rely on a team of doctors, nurses, and therapists to make their recovery.

Now they can rely on horses as well.

Francesca "Frankie" Langston had never been around horses until recently.   Now she and Brooks are building a bond.

"If you say 'Hey Brooks' and he looks up, he knows you're here," she explained.

In 2004, Frankie was a Marine, serving in Iraq.   She still gets emotional thinking about her deployment and her return to civilian life in 2005.

"Feels like you're dropped out here by yourself to be honest," she recalled.   "You have a unit, a platoon that you're connected with. Then you're out here by yourself."

Dr. Manette Monroe is an expert in Equestrian Therapy and P-T-S-D.   She says horses have a lot in common with traumatized people.

"They're hypervigilant," said Mr. Monroe who is an Assistant Professor of Pathology at the University of Central Florida.

"They're always watching for danger; always watching for something to happen around them," she explained.   "When a horse hears a loud noise around them, they jump. For a veteran with PTSD, when they hear a loud noise, they're going to have the same reaction."

Dr. Monroe and her colleagues are studying the impact of horses on soldiers.   So far, more than 70 veterans have gone through a formal, ten-week program to retrain the brain to stay calm.

"Because the veterans want that interaction with the horse they learn to self soothe," said Dr. Monroe.

THERE'S A LOCAL CONNECTION:  A group called Sundance for Our Soldiers offers Equine-Assisted Learning Services to active military, reserves, and veterans of all ages and dependents.  Located in Cambridge, the group also offers private lessons at Schone's Friendship Farm in Milan as well as at the SOS facility in Henry County.

"It's helped me step out and not be in my house in a comfortable zone," noted Frankie Langdon.

"Grooming. Riding. It's all good. It makes my heart happy."

Dr. Monroe says a significant number of the 70 soldiers in the research study reported improvements in depression symptoms and improved interpersonal relationships following the ten-week horse therapy sessions in conjunction with medication and other therapies.

TREATMENT: Typical treatments for PTSD can be costly and time consuming, and do not always offer results. Researchers are looking into other therapeutic options. Combat veterans diagnosed with PTSD were less depressed and experienced fewer symptoms after participating in a therapeutic horseback-riding program, according to a study conducted by the University of Central Florida, College of Medicine. The study followed eight Central Florida veterans who sustained physical and emotional injuries through combat in Iraq, Afghanistan or Vietnam. They were the first to go through an eight-week Horses and Heroes equestrian program coordinated by UCF, Heavenly Hoofs, and SADLES of Umatilla. The study found that by working with horses that are ultrasensitive to emotions and nonverbal communication, the veterans increased their emotional awareness, elevated their mood and better modulated their emotions. In the future, the study will expand to determine whether equestrian therapy aids 'neuroplasticity,' the idea that the brain changes and atrophies because of environmental factors such as stress.   (Source: https://today.ucf.edu/horse-therapy-ves-shows-positive-early-results/)

If this story  has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.