War Horses for Heroes helps veterans find hope and healing
January 24, 2019
By Dr. Mary C. McDonald
Trey Lawson and Pearson Allen have been best friends since first grade. They grew up learning from their parents the importance of giving back, and of service to others. And they learned from their grandfathers, who served in the military in World War II, the sacrifices that were made to defend and protect their country. They grew up admiring the bravery and honor of their service. They also knew of the toll that combat often takes on those who serve.
Trey experienced that toll after his college roommate, Sean, returned from Iraq. Trey saw him struggle with his transition to civilian life, the loss he felt after he left his unit, and the psychological effects of the horrors he experienced in combat.
Trey wanted to help. He started bringing Sean to his family farm, Oak View Stables, to let him groom and ride horses. Trey and Pearson watched as Sean would use that time to escape, to relax, and to connect with the horses. Gradually, his anxiety and constant feelings of high alert began to wane. Slowly he seemed to heal. The time at the farm working with the animals somehow helped him work through the intense experiences and memories that had followed him home from war.
This gave Trey and Pearson an idea: Maybe the farm and the horses could help even more veterans in the same way. “I didn’t serve,” Trey told me, “but I wanted to serve those who did.”
That desire to help was the start of War Horses for Heroes, a nonprofit organization they founded in 2015 to assist veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, depression or physical injuries – to heal them both emotionally and physically.
War Horses for Heroes then partnered with the Veterans Administration to invite veterans to meet the horses and begin the program of equine-assisted therapy. The program is carefully designed with assistance from mental health professionals and incorporates activities involving horses, including groomin, groundwork, and horseback riding.
The veterans are provided opportunities to set and achieve skills-based goals and create relationships with the horses and with fellow veterans, allowing them to build their confidence, stability and connections.
As veterans demonstrate their progress through the program, they are given opportunities to volunteer to become staff with War Horses for Heroes. Their own experiences make them credible partners in the healing of other veterans. They lived and understand that struggle.
“I believe that you should do good and leave the world a better place,” Pearson said. “And that better place is War Horses for Heroes, a place that gives veterans a way to a better restart in life.”
According to Trey, as a therapy partner a horse is intuitive, gentle and nonjudgmental. The farm provides a trusting and open environment for processing and healing for the hundreds of veterans who have gone through the program. Working alongside others who have similar experiences allows veterans to build relationships, an important step toward rebuilding hope and stability after trauma.
Trey and Pearson’s vision for expansion includes first responders and others who been diagnosed with PTSD in this unique program of hope, healing and horses.
Contact Dr. Mary C. McDonald, a national education consultant, at 574-2956 or visit mcd-partners.com