While the therapeutic value of horses has been recognized for centuries, their wide scale use as a therapeutic tool for veterans with special needs and disabilities is relatively recent.
In 2006, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, in conjunction with the Army’s Caisson Platoon, implemented a pilot program using equine-assisted therapy for soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. The veterans in this program were seen to improve in areas of balance, muscle strength, posture, self-esteem, and self-confidence. This successful pilot program served as the catalyst for the development of the HORSES HELPING HEROES PROJECT in Smithfield, Virginia.
The HORSES HELPING HEROES PROJECT is based at private facility that is a PATH International (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, International) member center, bringing together a team of skilled horses, PATH-certified instructors, and a group of dedicated, fully-trained volunteers to teach the foundations of horsemanship, equine behavior, and horseback riding. Participating veterans are assigned a horse to work with over the course of a four- or eight-week session. During each class, the veterans learn more about their horses, have opportunities to bond with them, and are presented with challenging tasks to accomplish.
TSB thinks the HHHP is a wonderful and important effort to help the men and women who bravely serve our country rediscover themselves through horses. We were thrilled to find out that Jim Masterson’s book BEYOND HORSE MASSAGE was being used as a teaching tool by HHHP volunteers, and we’d like to share a little about how the Masterson Method was recently introduced to veterans during an HHHP class, described in the following article (for information on how you can help support the HORSES HELPING HEROES PROJECT, see link at end of article):
THANK YOU! From the Horses Helping Heroes Project
It started out as a written request for permission to reproduce some copyrighted materials to give to our veterans after a class demonstration. The topic was Chapter 4, the Bladder Meridian Technique from Jim Masterson’s book Beyond Horse Massage. It turned into a generous gift from Trafalgar Square Books, 10 copies of Mr. Masterson’s book so each of our veterans could have their own!
The demonstration was conducted by a volunteer with the the Horses Helping Heroes Project (HHHP), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization which offers equine-assisted activities and therapies to veterans with special needs and disabilities. The volunteer had been successfully applying the techniques found in the book on her own horse and agreed to give a presentation as part of the HHHP class lecture series. Seven eager veterans along with a contingent of volunteers practiced “air gap” pressure on their own arms and even got to pet a raw egg yolk to understand just how little pressure is needed to help relieve tension in a horse. The trick is using just enough pressure to work on areas holding tension without setting off a defensive response. Our airmen like to refer to it as “flying under the radar.”
Pooter, a Morgan mare, was then brought out for a live demonstration. Little did we know just how much tension she was storing! As the hand slowly followed the Bladder Meridian there was much quivering of the whiskers, twitching of the lips, blinking of the eyes, licking and chewing. Slowly her head dropped a little, then a little more and finally she cocked one of her hind legs. We could almost hear her say “Ahhhh that feels soooooo good!”
Next there was hands-on time for the veterans with other horses. The veterans met with equal success; everyone was feeling good! Just as horses have “real” names and “barn” names so does the Bladder Meridian Technique. We call it “Magic Fingers” and it is now offered as an activity with each class.
The mission of HHHP is to empower military and first-responder veterans to face the challenges of mental, emotional and physical wounds and to assist them in creating active, healthier and more fulfilling lives through equine-assisted activities and therapies. Thank you Trafalagar Square Books for helping us meet that goal.