“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” Sir Winston Churchill Horses have been our faithful companions for more than 5000 years. They’ve hauled our cargo, plowed our fields and carried our messages. It wasn’t long before horses were helping us defend our homes and families. From the chariot horses of ancient Egypt, to the fearsome Mongolian cavalry, the Middle Age knight on his proud charger, to the final mighty charge at Beersheba in WWI by our own heroic ANZAC horses. Horses have stood by us when we have been cold, troubled, and afraid.
By WWII, tanks and technology were replacing horses on the modern battlefield. You might think that the bond between soldier and horse is long gone now in 2019, something relegated to the history books. But horses are helping us fight our battles in a whole new way. Equine facilitated therapy, equine assisted learning and therapeutic riding are all terms for programs that partner with horses to assist people experiencing a wide range of issues. From physical disabilities, substance and addiction problems, behavioural and attention difficulties, and mental health disorders, horse-assisted intervention is gaining popularity and evidence across the world as adjunct and complementary treatments, alongside traditional psychological therapy and medication.
This includes the treatment of veterans, who can experience many challenges both during and after their military service. Recent research is beginning to acknowledge what we horse people have known in our hearts for a long time – horses are healing. Science is catching up to what we see every day in arenas and paddocks and trails around the globe; the bond between human and horse can help us identify, understand, process and modify our thoughts and feelings.
For veterans, horses present a unique opportunity to explore their personal challenges in an outdoor, hands-on environment using the exquisite sensitivity of the horse to provide immediate and meaningful feedback. The story of soldiers and horses is far from over, and the future of equine intervention is an exciting one. I can’t wait to seeing where programs such as Sheez Like The Wind Equine Experiences can take us.
Major Samantha Hodges – Australian Army – Clinical Psychologist – PATH International qualified Therapeutic Riding Instructor
*Author’s personal opinion does not represent the official opinion of the Australian Defence Force.