Equine Therapy for Veterans

Community Foundation funds group which presents a path to healing for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Tucked into a verdant, rolling field off Alabama 59 in Stapleton, Equine Therapy Group offers dozens of veterans a unique therapy option designed to help overcome service-related challenges.

For James, the horse therapy has proven to be an eye-opening and unexpected path to healing.

“All of the other veteran stuff I’ve tried to do, nothing has worked. I have been more stable mindset-wise doing this than I have with anything else; I don’t think about suicide as often,” he said. “I don’t do well with therapists because of the fact that they weren’t on the battlefield.”

James isn’t alone.  For three years now the group has used nature and relationship with the horse to bring out a client’s natural patterns of relaxing, handling new situations and problem-solving skills.

Instructor Kari Whatley may be petite in stature, but, along with her horses, she’s a therapy superwoman for the dozens of veterans who go through her training.

“How you interact with the horse is how you interact with everything in your environment really,” said Whatley. “With the horses you can’t just say the right thing. You have to change you attitude and your behavior.”

Sometimes for James, the attitude adjustment is an immediate change that makes a long-term difference.

“There’s been days I’ve come out here when I’ve been stressed and just wanted to essentially explode and I’ve come out here and spent that time working with the horses,” he said. “I get in the car to leave and realize came in one state of mind and I’m leaving in another.”

He believes the unique experience with the intuitive horses and instruction from Whatley affects his everyday life. “Getting inside my head is not a good thing because there are days that I don’t even want to be in there myself. But coming out here has made a huge difference.”

For James, every session achieves a goal of helping him cope with the feelings that remain from his years of service.