Who We Are
After meeting board members and veteran participants of the V.E.T.S. program, I left with a new knowledge of the challenges faced by veterans returning from battle. Having never been exposed to any program like this, I decided to examine what I learned on that specialSaturday evening in Spicewood, Texas. These are my observations…
Veterans of recent worldwide conflicts are unique, selfless individuals who answered the call. They voluntarily signed up, trained up, and mounted up to fight the enemies of Liberty all across the globe. During the course of their multiple deployments, they have seen things that most Americans will only see in movies - hostile, vile, and violent things. To civilized human beings, these things do (and should) shake us to the core; but we ask our military to shelve their civility – as they must – to fight for liberty and security, and wade into the horrific fray on our behalf. For many reasons; technology, communications, etc., our world is “smaller,” and what happens 10,000 miles away matters – and should – to us all.
A most recent study shows we are losing 22 military veterans each day to suicide – that’s approximately 1 every hour, every day. Our warriors return from long deployments without much fanfare, and with virtually no personal support from those who sent them into battle. Sure, their physical injuries are repaired, prosthetics are fitted, medications are prescribed, but for too many that’s where the road back to the civilized world ends. Too often, it turns into a dead end, literally – and this is unacceptable. Many of our veterans return, but never really come all the way home.
As one battle-veteran turned Coach at V.E.T.S. so aptly described; Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a misnomer. The first part, “Post-Traumatic Stress,” is a normal reaction to witnessing and participating in the relentless violence and destruction that is war. Common symptoms include anxiety, sadness, depression, anger, and general failure to fit-in to civilized society upon returning home. Left untreated, one can slip into withdrawal from family and friends and slide into a downward spiral of alcohol and drug abuse; eventually losing the desire to try to live a normal life. The “Disorder” label might better fit those who deny that Post-Traumatic Stress is normal and should be expected, discussed, and holistically treated.
ABOUT THE V.E.T.S. PROGRAM
There are many horseback riding and petting facilities offering a brief equine encounter to some in need, but Veterans Equine Training Services provides a unique, in-depth recovery/treatment component that has proven effective in helping a bruised veteran find his or her own way back to a happier, healthier life in a civilized world. V.E.T.S. pairs a veteran with a horse for an extensive 10-12 week course. Together, horse and handler learn calm, confident communication skills rooted in the practice of “Natural Horsemanship.” Natural horsemanship is really about communication with the animal using its instinctual behaviors and natural tendencies. Handlers learn to recognize these behaviors and are taught how to tap into them gradually, developing unique communication skills while moving forward toward the ultimate goal of mutual trust and respect.
In the hierarchy of the natural order, horses are “prey” animals; as such they are naturally wary of strangers. Developing any relationship takes a conscious, purposeful effort requiring risk-taking on the animal’s part, and patience, knowledge, and even wisdom on the handler’s part. Establishing the relationship between handler and horse in many ways mirrors the challenges faced by a battle-weary veteran struggling to return to a healthy, happy life.
- The horse doesn’t know the handler, but can sense tension and anxiety
- The handler doesn’t know the horse, and can easily be intimidated by its size
- Risk and reward for both are great, and can only be achieved by clearing away fear, not dwelling on the past, and establishing trust rooted in mutual respect
The V.E.T.S. program works for the following reasons:
- The animals are non-judgmental
- Training requires full attention; the handler must remain in the moment
- Horses provide instinctual feedback; if the handler is tense, or angry, or exhibits other emotion while training, the horse will keep its distance, or otherwise not cooperate
- The handler must watch how the horse behaves, even the slightest cues, then recognize and respond with calm, confidence using natural horsemanship techniques
- Handlers and horses alike are rewarded with a unique bond – which can be characterized as a type of “friendship” rooted in respect
In summary, it becomes easier to put the past behind and place the present in context through this unique equine experience of communication; respect; friendship; purpose; confidence; inner peace; self-worth; and value to family, friends and community. When a veteran completes the twelve-week course, you can see how this training helps re-weave the fabric of self-worth, accomplishment, and value in returning to civil society
- J. Tucker, 2015