Horseback riding therapy for veterans

September 28, 2008 7:25:44 AM PDT
Therapeutic horseback riding is a success among children and adults with disabilities. Last year, a northern Illinois stable started such a program for veterans. Bravehearts is Illinois' first and only therapeutic horseback riding program for veterans with disabilities. And there's something for everyone.

Bravehearts therapeutic horseback riding program was started by Marge Gunner in 2003.

"The theory behind it is if you take an individual, for instance an individual who doesn't have good ambulating, and you put them on a horse, the three-dimensional movement of the horse's hip actually mimics human ambulating and that helps strengthen somebody's core trunk strength," said Gunner.

July of last year, Marge got a grant from the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs to expand therapeutic horseback riding to disabled vets.

"Our veterans that come here, who could be braver than the veterans that come here?" said Gunner.

Currently, disabled veterans come from Hines VA Hospital and Milwaukee VA hospital.

Sergio Estrada is the assistant director of the Illinois Department for Veterans Affairs.

"These guys are very active when they joined the service," said Estrada, "while they were in service and they still want to be active even though their disabled, so I think this program here with the therapeutic horses and with the therapeutic carriage riding is an awesome program to keep these guys busy."

Speaking of therapeutic carriage driving, this is relatively new.

"We're seeing quite a few individuals come back from the current conflict who have physical impairments which might make it unsafe to put them on the back of the horse," said Estrada.

Jeremy Legrand benefits more from carriage driving. He served in Iraqi and was injured in a car accident after he returned to the States.

"My brain got hurt in the accident," said Legrand.

He has been coming to Bravehearts once a week for a year.

"I like riding the horse, but I like trotting them, like you sit on something to steer them so you're like driving them," said Legrand.

"One of the things that we like to say is that the horse doesn't ask questions," Gunner said. "You never have to explain yourself to a horse. So people that come here with emotional issues, there is no issue with the horse, no explanation is needed. They just come and be one with their surroundings and with the animals."

Bravehearts is looking to expand their program for veterans with disabilities. Hopefully more stables will offer this service.

For more information go to Bravehearts' website at www.braveheartsriding.org or call (708) 485-5629.


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