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Immersive equine-therapy program helps veterans transition from military life

Veterans take part in equineassisted therapy program

MOUNTAIN CENTER, Calif. - A local group of veterans made the trip from Pasadena City College to partake in a three day immersive program in the mountains designed to help veterans with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries. The veterans helped to clear fire debris and learned how to work with horses. The program is offered through the Living Free Animal Sanctuary in Mountain Center. 

“What’s special about the horse...is that it forces you to focus and get into the moment. No matter what happens or what’s going on in the world around you, you have to let it go and get with your animal,” said Ray Barmore, the facilities supervisor and equine manager. 

Barmore says that learning to work and communicate with the horses creates a therapeutic experience. 

“It’s actually a feedback of how we feel too. Because a horse really reacts to our own emotions and our own stresses. So if the horse is happy we’re happy, if we’re happy the horse is happy. So it’s a give and take that’s always there," said Masataka Asaoka, a retired active Army veteran.

The veterans all agreed that the mountain environment provides an escape from the pace of everyday life. “It just reminds me of my childhood. It’s just nice to be out in the woods...have some fresh air...it just feels different out here,” said Garrett Thompson, a U.S. Marines veteran.  

The founders of the program say equine-assisted therapy has a unique ability to help veterans adapt to life after the military -- something they believe our society fails to help veterans do. “The suicide rate for veterans far exceeds their age group in the general population. And it’s all related back to their military experiences,” said Barmore.   

The program encourages strength through solidarity. “We all come from different walks but we’ve all had similar experiences to share in. So it’s cool to be able to relate to each other.” said Jeff Nolan, a U.S. Navy Veteran. 

The living free animal sanctuary plans to launch a four to six week version of the immersive therapy program next march. To get more info or to sign up for the program, visit their website here

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