After facing the traumatic horrors of combat, one in eight returning soldiers suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. A Canadian group called Can Praxis has launched the opportunity for soldiers and their loved ones to relearn how to live through the companionship provided by horses.
Soldiers are handing in their camouflage for stirrups to help deal with the traumatic stress they experienced in combat.
When a soldier is sent home from combat, the adrenaline they used to stay alive is forced to stop. However, a soldier’s mind which is trained to be constantly active becomes the leading cause of an inner battle called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Though it is a disorder examined since the earliest reports in the 6th century BC, nobody has been able to fully understand it.
“You name it, I’ve probably been there,” said Canadian veteran Jason Bennett. “Coming home from overseas was probably one of the most difficult things in my life and the hardest part was learning how to interact with people who aren’t soldiers. You’re in a very close knit family when you’re overseas, you have to rely on everybody around you. When you come home, the relationships are different and the environment is different. So it feels like there is something that’s not there.”
Studies have shown the most effective way of coping with PTSD is therapy finding the stress triggers and learning to regain a sense of security. This concept brought Steve Critchley and Jim Marland together to create Can Praxis.
Can Praxis is a program that uses horses for communication theory and practical exercises to help veterans and their spouses communicate together in a way that reduces stress. Based in Rocky Mountain House, AL, Can Praxis has shown success in its members through the programs that have been running for six months.
Bennett participated in Can Praxis’ programs, and said after the first afternoon, he immediately noticed a difference within himself. “The horses give that calming effect,” said Bennett. “They’re amazing animals and when we get stressed, the animals get stressed so that made us focus on how we were behaving. Even if we were not aware that we were stressed, the horses would feel it and they would react to it. That would make us stop and think about what we were doing and why.”
Marland, a registered psychologist, runs a program called Equine Assisted Learning. He explained the
reasoning behind the rejuvenating feeling Bennett has around the horses. ”Horses are a large animal of prey,” said Marland. “That means their way of dealing with stress or difficulties is usually to run away – that’s what they do in nature. They are experts at understanding our human body language. There are lots of people in the world who would say that growing up, having a horse was a good thing for their emotional well-being because they understand us.”
After trying several ways of coping with PTSD, Bennett and his girlfriend, Rebeccah Brown, turned to Can Praxis as their last resort. She said from being on the outside looking in on his struggles, she feels the horse therapy did the most for him.“It was scary when he came home,” said Brown. “They’re trained to hit first and ask questions later, and when they come home that never goes away. When he came home from his last tour, he was constantly stressed out. Around the horses, he’s calm. They make him aware of his stress, and that helps him make an effort to calm down.”
Can Praxis has a herd of 15 Halflinger horses – six of which are used in the program. Halflinger horses originate from Austria and are known for their calm personalities, small height and work-horse stature.
“The bulk of the horses are quite sensitive and reactive, they respond to people’s body language and a couple of the others who are less responsive,” said Marland. “So if you are dealing with people who are highly anxious, you might start them with the horses that are most calm. The horses notice a lot about veterans, then the veterans start to realize the horses understand them very well and that makes a significant impact. Veterans appreciate it because many of them feel understood in a way they may not have felt before.” by Hailey Trealout