Help for Those Who Serve
by Kim Roe
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is defined by the Mayo Clinic as “a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it.” Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, depression and anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. Hopelessness, isolation, and self-destructive behavior is common for PTSD sufferers.
Helping service members who are suffering from PTSD or traumatic brain injury (TBI) can be difficult in a typical medical setting, and overwhelming for family members.
Enter Windhaven Therapeutic Riding in La Center, Washington. As many horse lovers know, horses heal us. Their obvious needs give a sense of purpose to those who care for them. Feeling needed and helpful is a step towards healing for PTSD and TBI people. Horses also listen to us, offer warmth, friendship, and an opportunity to give and earn trust.
Windhaven Therapeutic Riding’s mission is to utilize the mutually beneficial human-equine relationship to promote healing of active duty, reserves and veterans suffering from the effects of PTSD, traumatic brain injury (TBI) and other service-related injuries.
Founded by Operations Manager Rodger Morrison and his wife Denice Larson-Morrison, they opened in January after two years of planning. Windhaven’s board has both veterans and nurses on it, and they take referrals from the Veterans Administration. They have 15 horses on approximately 7 acres, a round pen, and a covered arena.
Rodger Morrison once worked as a hospital administrator and is a US Army veteran. Denice Larson-Morrison also served in the military as a US Navy combat medic from 1979 to 1983. She is a lifelong equestrian and dedicated to helping suffering wounded warriors through the use of horses.
After the Navy, Larson-Morrison earned her nursing degree. She has been a trauma nurse for 25 years and is a certified neurological registered nurse. Larson-Morrison has first-hand experience with the high percentage of warriors returning home to the USA suffering from PTSD and TBI.
“The purpose of the military is to blow things up and kill people. Brains are changed in the process. People get trapped in a destructive cycle and the upper levels of the brain don’t work well,” Rodger Morrison explained. Working with horses helps these people develop new pathways in their brain so recovery can happen.
WHTR offers eight sessions. Each session consists of eight 1-hour lessons. All clients start with session one and may repeat any session as many times as they find beneficial. It takes at least two years for a veteran to progress through all eight sessions, if that is what they desire.
Before the first session the horses are introduced to each client two separate times. The horse “chooses” the person they want to work with. “People with PTSD are very reclusive, don’t relate well to people, and startle easily,” Morrison explained. “The horses are sensitive to the needs of the person and can act as a mirror, revealing the real person wanting to come out.”
The first 8-week session is all done on the ground and consists of learning horse behavior, communication, and ground work. It’s the foundation for all the work that will follow. Many of their clients go through this session twice. The second session begins basic riding in the round pen and arena. Each consecutive session builds on these skills.
Windaven has had many requests from emergency agencies and they hope next year to be able to serve first responders (paramedics, firefighters, EMTs) also suffering from PTSD.
Windhaven offers a variety of courses for all veterans and active-duty service members. All ages and abilities are welcome. A 501(c)(3) non-profit, WHTR provides riders with a solid framework in a fun and safe environment. Their instructors hold a variety of certifications and they conduct a regular series of trainings for volunteers.
If you are interested in assisting Windhaven by volunteering, sponsoring a horse, or donating to their program please contact them by phone, 503-422-1692, email, firstname.lastname@example.org or mail: PO Box 73 La Center, WA 98629. Learn more at www.windhaventherapeuticriding.org.