Not that they expect people to become equine massage therapists, but the general idea is to give folks an environment that is quiet and peaceful, where they can focus on their own healing or inner peace through the various activities offered. The program is completely free and confidential, and run by part time volunteers. So naturally, and since it is still getting off the ground, I see a lot of potential both for improvement to existing programming and introduction of additional programming if we can get the volunteer support.
One program that has me extremely excited is the use of round-pen techniques with veterans. Round penning techniques have different names depending which "Natural horsemanship" or "horse whisperer" school one follows (such as Monty Roberts' "Join-Up" or Clinton Anderson's "Method" or Parelli's "Crazy Town Circus Show," whatever that's called)....I think us more practical types just call it "groundwork."
Personally, I'm a fan of Buck Brannaman's techniques. Also Warwick Schiller's groundwork techniques, as he seems more practical, down to earth, and not insane marketeers like some of those previously mentioned in the above paragraph. Ultimately, good groundwork is just a solid understanding of the equine language, and proper application/timing of pressure and release of that pressure. It's a great training tool, it's something I've used for year when I first start working with any horse, and it can have huge benefits for people as well. It's about establishing connection and breaking down barriers.
The military and the government agencies tasked with supporting veterans are struggling with how to best address and correct the rampant trends of suicide, sexual assault, and other issues such as depression that are taking a massive toll on our military members. Equine-assisted therapy is becoming more recognized as a legitimate way for folks to heal, to find solutions to what is troubling them. Saratoga War Horse is one organization that is using round pen/groundwork and retired racehorses to help veterans. Check out the videos below to learn more about their program, how/why they started, and the work that they do:
You can also view the full, 27+ minute HRTV documentary about Saratoga War Horse.
Those in charge of our Hero Horses program are interested in my idea of doing something similar (though on a smaller scale), probably a two-day clinic offered at different times throughout the year. We have the horses that would benefit, we have the round pens, we have the people who want to help. Now it's probably just a matter of working out the details/logistics and making it happen. If we can get it going, I want to invite our base leadership to experience it, so they can understand it and help spread the word. We're a military-rich area, a horse-rich area, and I feel like this could be a useful initiative that could potentially help a lot of people (and horses!).
For many years I've been wanting to combine my love of horses (particularly the Thoroughbred) with my love for the military and those that need help. This looks like a fantastic opportunity to do just that. I'm hoping to contact Saratoga War Horse in the near future and ask about training for additional volunteers, to see if we can establish a relationship with their program, network, and benefit from their knowledge in this very unique venture.