SARATOGA SPRINGS – Therapeutic Horses of Saratoga, in partnership with ECS Psychological Services, is looking for active duty and retired veterans who want to participate in equine therapy for free after receiving a grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The nonprofit organization, which rescues retired racehorses that have been injured or no longer can race, recently announced that it is the recipient of the 2022 Adaptive Sports Grant Program, which aims to improve the lives of veterans through adaptive sports and therapeutic arts programs, according to the Veterans Affairs website.
Therapeutic Horses was among only eight organizations in the state to get funding and one of 108 across the country.
The VA does not list the amount each organization received.
However, the grant will cover a total of 480 spots, said Erin Christopher-Sisk, the founder of Therapeutic Horses.
“We were so excited,” she said. “We’ve tried for three years in a row to get this grant and it’s an honor to receive it.”
Christopher-Sisk said the organization runs a veterans program already but typically people still pay anywhere from $20 to $80 per session, even with insurance.
“The cost piece has been a barrier for service members to participate in this level of care, so it’s just really great we’ve been given the opportunity to bypass that barrier and provide this service to all service members,” said Dana Panetta, the director of military programs with ECS.
The program will help veterans facing a myriad of mental health issues with treatment focused around trauma and reintegrating into society after returning from deployment.
“It’s really successful at helping veterans get reconnected and adjusted to being back in their community,” Christopher-Sisk said.
She said it also helps with issues like depression and anxiety or sleeping problems.
Veterans can participate individually or in groups, which are split between men and women.
“They participate in a variety of activities with the horses that also help process some of those difficult emotions that they’ve been experiencing,” Christopher-Sisk said.
One of those activities might be developing a connection with a horse so that the horse will let you clean its hooves.
“A horse really has to trust you to pick up their foot for you, so that process involves learning how to build that trust with the horse and get to the point where you’re able to communicate with the horse and they trust you to do something like that,” she said. “That translates into a variety of metaphors in a veteran’s life-learning to trust the basic safety of your environment again at home or re-establishing trusting relationships in your family. There’s a lot of relationship strain put on veterans and their spouses or partners when they’re deployed and so that’s another way it translates over.”
Participants also get to do the therapy outside of the typical office space, which can get them to open up more, said Meg Koloskie, the development manager.
“You get to be in the fresh air and we find a great response from specifically the veteran community to that type of modality,” she said.
Koloskie said veterans have been really receptive to the program so far, which is currently looking for its second group of participants.
“You are forced to reflect on yourself and look inward without actually discussing your past,” said Koloskie, who was reading a testimonial from one of the participants who asked to remain anonymous because they are on active duty. “It is calming and surprisingly effective to work with the horse.”
People looking to participate in the program can contact ECS Psychological Services at 518-580-0520 or email [email protected] to reach an intake coordinator.
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