It’s a moment of peace, an escape from the pain of the past for Valley veterans whose service has left scars.
“By roadside bombs, I got blown up multiple times, including three times in less than 36 hours,” said Michael Proscia, whose service in Iraq earned him a Purple Heart. The wounds he suffered were not only physical but manifested in the form of Post Traumatic Stress.
It’s estimated nearly 30 percent of service members who spent time in war zones suffer from PTSD, according to the VA.
“The doctors want you to sit in these groups and open up and sing Kumbaya,” Proscia said.
However, the therapy that has worked best for Proscia can be found in a barn.
“When I get around the horses, I just feel like the stress and anger and all, everything, just kind of melt off my shoulders,” he said.
But more than calming, the creatures are intuitive.
“They sense how you feel; they don’t judge you,” Proscia said.
However, they do teach patience. Proscia said he’s learned to step back and become more self-aware of his actions.
“It’s really helped me as far as to realize how your movements and actions, even the way you stand and approach someone, how they can take that as being angry or aggressive, when you’re really not trying to be,” Proscia said.
“They [the horses] become their mirror image,” said Horse Rhythm Foundation founder Sahika Riley, a veteran herself and physician assistant.
Riley puts veterans through a variety of exercises with the horses in an arena. She uses obstacles to help guide the patients through therapy, using their movements and actions to guide the healing process.
“We’ve found with veterans, it brings stuff out pretty quick,” Riley said. “I’ve had veterans fall on their knees, just crying.”
The length of the therapy varies depending on the veteran, but the end goal remains the same.
“If I had to sum it up in one word, I would have to say freedom.”
The therapy gives back freedom to those who defended ours.
“They feel like they’ve got control back on their life, and that the war or whatever critical incident that they’ve been through, no longer controls them; they can control it now,” Riley said.
So far, the program has helped hundreds of veterans. It’s now also being applied to help first responders and public safety officers.
“You can be happy again and find a new normal,” Proscia said.
For more information on Horse Rhythm Foundation, visit www.horserhythm.org.