Animal Instincts Help Our Veterans

Horses bring a sense of calm, peace and control to service members battling PTSD — and much more

Seventy-two minutes. Every 72 minutes. Like clockwork, day in and day out.

Every day, a veteran of the United States military takes his or her own life at an average rate of one every 72 minutes. Veterans make up only nine percent of the total United States population — yet somehow account for over 18 percent of all suicides in America.

In 2014 alone, over 7,400 veterans committed suicide. Since 2001, the United States military has suffered over 6,920 combat fatalities. Now let’s consider these numbers, side by side. Every year, the number of veterans dying by their own hands outpaces the total fatalities incurred in over 16 years of nonstop combat operations.

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It is no secret that veterans who go to the Department of Veterans Affairs seeking help for psychological issues are overmedicated by teams of overworked doctors. Yet the mass prescription of complex drug cocktails do not seem to be making even the slightest dent in the ever-present suicide epidemic.

Everyone agrees something must be done to stem the tide before our nation loses its most valuable resource — the human capital that is the wealth of talent our veterans bring to the table. Yet nobody seems to have an answer to the question of what exactly we are supposed to do to save our national heroes.

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Traditional methods just don’t seem to be working on the scale required to turn around such a seemingly unstoppable force. When alternative approaches are pursued, such as medicinal marijuana, the VA and other lobbying groups move to get it stopped. This is a solution that is going to require the force multiplier of a truly unconventional approach.

Even the struggling veterans seem to know that the help he or she needs isn’t going to be provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Seventy percent of veterans who kill themselves are not even under the care of the VA at the time of their deaths.

Amanda Held found herself trying to navigate a healthy path in 2009. She joined the Air Force in 1999 and served on active duty for four years as a Human Resources Apprentice. After leaving active duty in 2003, Held spent two years following her lifelong equestrian passion by training wild horses in Colorado Springs. In 2005, she answered the call of duty again and joined the Air National Guard. Eventually, she realized that she needed some help to overcome her own neglected Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Like many service members and veterans, it took hitting rock bottom to wake Held up. It was this harsh wake-up that empowered her to embark on a journey of personal discovery and healing.

Related: PTSD ‘Can Happen to Anyone — It’s Not a Sign of Weakness’

She found her healing in a truly unconventional and unique form of therapy: the horses she had surrounded herself with her entire life. After being afforded the chance to attend one of their therapy events, Held eventually became one of only 10 individuals in the entire world to be trained and certified as an overview method facilitator.

Empowered and emboldened to share what she learned, Amanda Held founded Healing Of Our Veterans Equine Services (HOOVES). The HOOVES program encourages veterans struggling with PTSD to work on building a relationship with one of their horses, so that they learn how to read cues from their equine partner and then work with them to accomplish tasks.

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The similarities between horses and humans in a social sense allows the veterans to improve their own interpersonal relationships with their friends and family, while also allowing them to get to know themselves better, so that they may better adapt and cope with the world around them.

After recovering successfully from her own PTSD, Amanda Held knows how important it is for veterans to get help that actually works when they seek it out.

“Equine therapy has proven to have a recovery rate three times faster than conventional therapy,” she says.

Related: Horses’ Healing Hooves

Many veterans have issues verbalizing their feelings, especially with strangers; however, the HOOVES approach does not require words. The horses’ ability to sense and react to veterans’ unspoken emotions allows the veterans to see their problems from an outside perspective, allowing them to define and solve many of the issues they are having. They finally have the chance to see their problems and visualize a reality where they have solutions to what once seemed insurmountable.

Something has to change if we are going to save veterans’ lives.

Held’s vision for HOOVES is to eventually take her operation nationwide, so that her equine-assisted training and certification program can help heal veterans and their families from the invisible wounds of war. Her hope is that one day soon, with the proper funding and support, HOOVES will be helping our servicemen and women across the entire nation to return to a sense of normalcy and the life they have fought and sacrificed for to protect.

The workshops that HOOVES provides are done at absolutely no cost to the veterans they support. Anyone who might be interested in helping accomplish this mission has several options to donate, sponsor, or support these workshops. You can follow HOOVES and Amanda on Facebook or Twitter, as they strive to make a difference with our brave men and women. There is no question that something has to change if we are going to save veterans’ lives — the cost has been too high for far too long.

Chris Erickson is a former U.S. Army Special Forces soldier and an OpsLens contributor. He spent over 10 years in the Army and performed multiple combat deployments, as well as various global training missions throughout the world. He is still active in the veteran community and currently works in the communications industry. This OpsLens article is used by permission.

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