Historically, horses were marched into battle, but today they’re helping war veterans find peace.
“Once I returned to Colorado after getting out of the service, I had a hard time adjusting to civilian life,” says Robert Burge. “After a couple years of struggling, I ended up self-medicating with meth. I went on a downward spiral like this for three years.”
He eventually ended up in a homeless shelter, Catholic Charities Samaritan House, which had a program for vets with post-traumatic stress disorder. That’s where he found out about The Right Step, a Littleton-based nonprofit that, according to its mission, “works to better the lives of people with disabilities through the healing power of horses.”
Sheryl Clossen, who’s been involved with The Right Step nearly since its inception in 2008, says horses have the innate ability to sense what’s going on in a person’s mind, from sensing when a veteran is having a flashback to predicting seizures.
According to the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, of which The Right Step is a member, “new scientific research continues to reveal critical information about equine sentience – their abilities of perception, cognition, memory, and emotions such as pain and fear. Equines are able to perceive, respond to and learn from the impressions they receive from minimal sensory stimuli.”
Equine therapy works for those with autism and physical disorders, as well. Voicing commands to the horses helps with speech, and riding tones up core muscles. Because horses have individual personalities – kind of like giant kittens – emotional bonds can be formed.
“For individuals with emotional challenges, the unique relationship formed with the horse can lead to increased confidence, patience and self-esteem,” according to PATH International.
It’s also good for the animals, says Clossen. Many of the program’s 17 horses are approaching their expected life span of 25 to 33 years. Clossen they’ve lived longer than a lot of horses because in addition to lots of social interaction and exercise, they get babied.
Andy, for example, was found starving in a field and later donated to the program.
“Now he lives like a prince,” said Clossen, slipping him a peppermint. “Most of the horses love the job. They know that these people are special.”
Burge liked the program so much that he continues to volunteer whenever he can, now that he’s found a job and a home. It’s easy to see why, as it’s undeniably a nice way to spend a morning.
The Right Step operates out of Coventry Farms, tucked away at Mineral Avenue and Santa Fe Drive. It’s like a little suburban oasis where the biggest worry seems to be watching where you step.
The Right Step celebrated its first-ever hoedown May 12, with the proceeds going toward scholarships for students. Volunteers and donations are always welcome, says Clossen. For more information, visit www.therightstep.org or call 303-904-7261.