Horses Help Soldiers Recover, Overcome
by Christine Aurigema
U.S. Army Recovery Care Program
January 26, 2021
Grooming, saddling and riding a horse may not seem like the
typical activities of a modern-day Soldier, but that’s exactly what
some in the Army Recovery Care Program are doing as part of their
Soldiers assigned to the Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston Soldier Recovery Unit, Texas, participated in its equine therapy program at a stable in October
2020. Soldiers were paired with horses and taught how to groom and ride them as part of their adaptive reconditioning. (Photo courtesy of Angel Flores)
Equine programs are offered at several soldier recovery units,
including Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston SRU, Texas; Fort
Carson SRU, Colorado; and Fort Riley SRU, Kansas. They allow
Soldiers to develop bonds with horses while caring for them.
In some programs, they go horseback riding as well. All of the
programs practice COVID-19 precautionary measures.
The JBSA adapting reconditioning program partnered with a stable
to offer an equine therapy program. Participating Soldiers attend an
instructional session and are taught how to groom horses and clean
horseshoes. This time allows them to connect with the animals, said
Angel Flores, adaptive reconditioning support specialist at the JBSA
They also learn to maneuver horses around a ring and
may take them on rides with the instructors. Flores said that
interaction with the horses is beneficial.
“The Soldiers are able to find peace,” he said.
that being with the horses and out in nature comforts many Soldiers.
Sgt. 1st Class Leonard Morgan, a
Soldier assigned to the JBSA SRU, had never been on horseback before
participating in the equine therapy program. Since he started, he’s
ridden horses and been on trail rides. Morgan said the program
fosters connections and mentioned that one horse remembers him when
“They pair you up with the horse and you bond with
that horse all morning, all day,” he said.
The Fort Carson
SRU offers two programs; one is located at the U.S. Air Force
Academy Equestrian Center and operated by a nonprofit. Participating
Soldiers learn to groom and work with the horses and ride them with
the equine program leaders.
Marc Cattapan, adaptive
reconditioning support specialist at the Fort Carson SRU, said that
the second program is with a ranch. He explained that participating
Soldiers work to develop relationships with horses that aid them in
relaxing and checking in with their emotional and mental statuses.
They communicate before and after working with the horses and
participation related changes are observed, he said.
Horseback riding may be the goal, but grooming and caring for horses
takes precedence because it aids Soldiers in reducing stress,
lowering blood pressure and improving overall health, said Rachel
Bennatt, recreation therapist at the Fort Carson SRU.
“Building companionship and relationship through time with the
animal is the therapy that helps heal the deeper wounds of each
Soldier,” Bennatt said.
Staff Sgt. Chanel Brock, a Soldier
assigned to the Fort Carson SRU, said working with the horses at the
U.S. Air Force Academy Stables helped her “disconnect from negative
chatter and minute worries,” which can add up at times.
was able to connect in not only a singular way with my feelings but
with those around me as well,” she said.
Brock said that the
time she spent individually working with a horse named Tilly
provided the most healing. She said she brushed and communicated
with Tilly and forgot about everything but their connection.
“It gave me the healing comfort of quiet time and
companionship…All without the noise and distraction of everything
else,” she said. “All without words.”
Jill Sump, occupational
therapist at the Fort Riley SRU, said that a ranch provides the
horses, technology and environment for their equine program.
Sump said the equine program teaches skills through grooming and
nonverbal communication. She explained that horses communicate in
different styles and they must work together on communication to
determine what they might need.
The Soldier earns the horse’s trust
and respect through grooming, noticing things that require
attention, sensing the horse’s feelings and relaxing, she said. They
also discuss their own emotional states and become cognizant of
their current feelings and environment, she said.
Sgt. Dylan Lipskey, a Soldier assigned to the Fort Riley SRU, learned about
horses and horseback riding through the program. It also taught him
Sgt. Dylan Lipskey, a Soldier assigned to the Fort Riley Soldier Recovery Unit, Kansas rode a horse while participating in an equine program at a ranch on October 7, 2020. Soldiers assigned to several SRUs learn how to groom and ride horses as part of their adaptive reconditioning. (Photo courtesy of Jill Sump)
“Since being in the program, it’s kind of
taught me that there is more to life than there was in the beginning
[when he started the program] for me and it’s given me a lot of
happiness,” he said.
For Lipskey, the best thing about the
program is working with the horses. In fact, he said he loves
horseback riding, but he would forgo it and just spend time around
the animals and groom them, if it came to that.
Class Matthew Maldonado is also a Soldier assigned to the Fort Riley
SRU. He appreciates the chance to be around the horses at the ranch
and thinks it’s a fine opportunity for Soldiers who are
transitioning back to duty or to veteran status to gain knowledge
“I just really liked being with the animal and
forming that bond,” Maldonado said. “It reminds me a lot of the
bonds we form with Soldiers.”
Maldonado said that the
program provided him with hope and courage and, now that he’s
finished it, he feels increased confidence that he can make it.
The Army Warrior Care and Transition Program is now the Army
Recovery Care Program. Although the name has changed, the mission
remains the same: to provide quality complex case management to the
Army's wounded, ill and injured Soldiers.
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