ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Taking care of your mental health is important. Many people use traditional therapy to cope with their internal scars, but for many veterans, it might be hard to open up about PTSD and trauma in a traditional therapy setting.

The Military Veteran Peer Network at the Betty Hardwick Center on Orange Street said it noticed this problem right away. After researching alternative coping methods to offer Abilene veterans, MVPN decided on equine therapy. Ann McKee, MVPN Peer Services Coordinator, took matters into her own hands by finding a grant to cover those costs.

After a four month long process, MVPN was awarded a grant from Community Foundation of Abilene for Equine Therapy.

“I was so excited I think I emailed everybody I was like oh my gosh I’m so excited we got it we got it,” McKee recalled.

MVPN has partnered with Aspiring Champions in South Abilene to offer these services, free of charge, to veterans. Some say horses are like big dogs and gentle giants. Their laid back personalities allows veterans to feel safe and at peace.

What makes Aspiring Champions unique is participants aren’t riding the horses, but simply becoming part of the herd. The way it works is partakers get inside the pen with a Head Equine Specialist to pet and interact with the horses. This allows people, like Veterans, build relationships and trust with the horses.

Shaley Griffin, from Aspiring Champions, said being outdoors and at peace allows people to open up about PTSD and trauma they experienced in a judgement free zone.

“I could say, I noticed two horses separated themselves from the other can you tell me how that relates to your story, and then we allow the person to tell their story and it just opens up communication,” said Griffin.

To gain confidence, part of the therapy is harnessing the horse. By being able to control an animal as heavy as a horse, encourages people to start taming issues in their own lives.

“They start to transform because they start to connect with the horses. What we use, the horses, and part of the sessions is to capture them. We actually teach them about harnessing their thoughts and when they harness the horse with the halter,” Griffin explained. “They recognize they can harness those big thoughts that are controlling their life outcomes.”

MVPN said Veterans can begin to participate in the program starting in January 2023. The grant will allow ten veterans to attend a 12 week program at Aspiring Champions. McKee added that although they are starting small, this is just the beginning. McKee is hopeful MVPN can acquire more funds to make the program accessible to all veterans that apply.

Visit Betty Hardwick Center’s website for more information about what services the Military Veteran Peer Network offers.