ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) – Dogs, cats, and even birds have all been specially trained as therapy animals. Now, researchers in Central Florida are among the first in the country to establish a formal center to study the benefits of horse therapy on soldiers with PTSD. Here are details on how time with gentle giants may have a big impact.
Francesca “Frankie” Langston had never been around horses until recently. Now she and Brooks are building a bond.
Langston told Ivanhoe, “If you say, ‘Hey Brooks,’ and he looks up, he knows you’re here.”
In 2004, Langston was a Marine, serving in Iraq. She still gets emotional thinking about her deployment and her return to civilian life in 2005.
Langston detailed, “Feels like you’re dropped out here by yourself to be honest. You have a unit, a platoon that you’re connected with. Then you’re out here by yourself.”
Manette Monroe, M.D., MEd, an assistant professor of pathology at University of Central Florida College of Medicine, is an expert in equestrian therapy and PTSD. She said horses have a lot in common with traumatized people.
Dr. Monroe continued, “They’re hypervigilant. They’re always watching for danger; always watching for something to happen around them. When a horse hears a loud noise around them, they jump. For a veteran with PTSD, when they hear a loud noise, they’re going to have the same reaction.” (Read Full Interview)
Dr. Monroe and her colleagues are studying the impact of horses on soldiers. So far, more than 70 veterans have gone through a formal, ten-week program to retrain the brain to stay calm.
“Because the veterans want that interaction with the horse they learn to self soothe,” explained Dr. Monroe.
Langston said, “It’s helped me step out and not be in my house in a comfortable zone. Grooming. Riding. It’s all good. It makes my heart happy.”
Dr. Monroe said a significant number of the 70 soldiers in the research study reported improvements in depression symptoms and improved interpersonal relationships following the ten-week horse therapy sessions in conjunction with medication and other therapies.
Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising and Field Producer; Milvionne Chery, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor and Videographer.
MEDICAL BREAKTHROUGHS – RESEARCH SUMMARY
TOPIC: HORSES HELP AMERICA’S HEROES
REPORT: MB #4253
BACKGROUND: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event, either experiencing it or witnessing it. PTSD symptoms can appear right after the event, but sometimes do not show up for years. These symptoms cause significant problems in social or work situations and in relationships. They can also interfere with the ability to go about normal daily tasks. Symptoms include intrusive memories (such as flashbacks or nightmares), avoidance of the thought of the event, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions such as self-destructive behavior, irritability, depression, or overwhelming guilt or shame. The primary treatment for PTSD is psychotherapy, but medication is usually taken as well.
TREATMENT: Typical treatments for PTSD can be costly and time consuming, and do not always offer results. Researchers are looking into other therapeutic options. Combat veterans diagnosed with PTSD were less depressed and experienced fewer symptoms after participating in a therapeutic horseback-riding program, according to a study conducted by the University of Central Florida, College of Medicine. The study followed eight Central Florida veterans who sustained physical and emotional injuries through combat in Iraq, Afghanistan or Vietnam. They were the first to go through an eight–week Horses and Heroes equestrian program coordinated by UCF, Heavenly Hoofs, and SADLES of Umatilla. The study found that by working with horses that are ultrasensitive to emotions and nonverbal communication, the veterans increased their emotional awareness, elevated their mood and better modulated their emotions. In the future, the study will expand to determine whether equestrian therapy aids “neuroplasticity,” the idea that the brain changes and atrophies because of environmental factors such as stress.
EQUINE THERAPY: Horse therapy, or equine therapy, involves activities such as grooming, feeding, haltering, riding, and leading a horse. Studies have indicated that equine therapy has been successful in helping patients show marked improvements in emotional awareness, empathy, impulse control, and social responsibility.
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