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Lander University to Offer Equine Therapy to Veterans with PTSD

A S.C. Army National Guardsman learns to communicate with a horse partner during Lander University's pilot program for utilizing horses in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) therapy for military veterans. Photo by Deb Nygro

Lander University will soon offer an equine therapy program for U.S. military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The horse-based therapy initiative, which will begin in the spring of 2018 at Lander's Equestrian Center on Hwy. 72-221 in Greenwood, is made possible by appropriated funds from the South Carolina State Legislature.

The program is an answer to the need faced by many veterans. Combat veterans in South Carolina are committing suicide at nearly a 50 percent higher rate than the general population, and the National Institute of Mental Health recently concluded that PTSD is a major contributing factor. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports that, on average, approximately 22 former members of the Armed Forces commit suicide every day. Traditional PTSD medications can have harmful side effects and have been ineffective for many patients.

Horses are uniquely suited for the therapy environment because of their natural instincts and communication methods. Their heavy reliance upon reading and reacting to body language means there is no long process of establishing a connection between a traditional therapist and patient.

Because equine therapy takes place in an open and non-traditional environment, patients do not fear being judged, and progress is made more quickly in the therapeutic process.

In late March, Lander hosted a successful three-day pilot program for veterans across the state suffering from PTSD. The program was led by Jeff Patterson, director of the Herd2Human therapeutic program at Willowbend Farm in Clinton, Montana. Since that time, the training of equine therapy leaders has begun in anticipation of offering equine therapy session in the spring of 2018.