FREEPORT, Fla. — A Northwest Florida animal refuge and a group that helps military service members heal from trauma are partnering to offer a therapeutic program using horses.
Alaqua Animal Refuge and The Hope Project will offer equine assisted therapy to military veterans and service members suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to a news release from Alaqua Animal Refuge.
Founded in 2007, the Alaqua Animal Refuge is a no-kill animal shelter and sanctuary located in the panhandle of Florida. The Hope Project uses a variety of approaches, including rescue horses, to help wounded warriors, veterans, first responders, and their families deal with physical and emotional injuries.
“PTSD is trauma to the soul. If we ignore the soul, then we will not find the hope and healing we need to live,” said David Trogdon, Director of The Hope Project and Chaplain, LTC, U.S. Army Retired.
Alaqua’s Equine Interactions program was implemented six years ago, and has been used to help special needs children and adults with certain development needs to promote positive social and life skills in a supportive setting, according to Alaqua. The program is a hands-on educational approach that uses interaction and relationship development between horses and humans in an environment of learning and self-discovery.
Using the power of horses, the Equine Interactions program works to heal individuals battling a variety of physical or emotional issues, including PTSD. Unfortunately, suicide is one of the worst outcomes of PTSD, and military suicides have increased by as much as 20% this year compared to the previous year — especially in the COVID era with national disasters, deployment, and civil unrest.
Alaqua’s Equine Interaction program provides a safe, peaceful, and comfortable environment for individuals, as the horse barn and its adjoining pastures lends itself as a unique multi-sensory classroom and setting. The focused interchanges with horses address trauma and other mental health needs, including substance abuse, depression, and family relationships. In equine assisted therapy, the horses also serve as metaphors for people, issues, and challenges in participants’ lives. The unique qualities and sensitivities of the horses give them a special capacity to read and respond to non-verbal symbols and cues, which can lead to powerful emotional interactions, breakthroughs, and life-changing insights.
This type of equine-assisted therapy has been proven to help military veterans and their families as they can quickly and deeply get to the root of issues and experience meaningful changes in the lives.
“With Northwest Florida home to six Air Force and Navy bases, having a program such as this to help our veterans is so important," said Alaqua founder Laurie Hood. “Animals are able to heal the human soul on so many levels, and we are excited to branch out to help these individuals who have done so much for our country.”
Alaqua’s Equine Interactions program is certified by the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) and is also one of their EAGALA military services designated program. The treatment team consists of Alaqua Equine Specialist Bonnie Blackmon and The Hope Project Director David Trogdon, who is also a mental health professional. The program is eight weeks long, with one-hour individual sessions per week. Groups of eight can also be accommodated.