NEWFANE -- Winston Churchill once said, "There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man." For the veterans who take part in the Wounded Warrior Project at the Southern Vermont Therapeutic Riding Center, there is a lot of truth in what he said. During the last three years that Lorna Young, project manager at the riding center, has been involved in the Wounded Warrior Project she has been witness to the power of healing that her horses provide to our returning soldiers over and over again.
Leasing stables and the use of pasture land at the beautiful Winchester Stables on River Road in Newfane, Young has five horses, Hope, Spot, Cody, and Thor and now Caliber that have been specially trained as therapeutic horses offering Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies for a host of programs under the umbrella of Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (P.A.T.H.), one of which is the Wounded Warrior Project. She is particularly excited about the recent addition of Caliber, a handsome chestnut colored Tennessee walker/quarter horse with white stockings and a blaze.
Caliber is generously on lease from Diane Cammarata of Springfield, a medic with the National Guard presently stationed at Fort Hood, in Texas, and soon to be deployed to Afghanistan. Caliber serves a dual purpose in his year-long tenure at the stables, because it is also therapeutic to Cammarata knowing he is helping her fellow solders. Caliber is particularly well suited for the work required of him in the project. At 23 years old, he is stoic and steady, nothing surprises him, he is eager to please, and seems to know exactly what his job is.
Currently there are two veterans in the program taking advantage of the Veterans Administration's referral into the eight-week program. Kevin (last name not provided) says he is getting back in shape after a hip replacement as he spends his time grooming and walking the horses. He hopes that the skills that Caliber teaches him today will help him open a facility where veterans and families can enjoy horses.
Two-tour Iraq veteran Sergeant Charlotte Marcy of Guilford spends her two to three hours each day, twice a week, grooming her horse and improving her riding skills. For her the chance to have a horse back in her life has made a significant difference in her outlook on life.
In a letter from SVTRC to Poulin Grain during the center's request for the donation of grain for Caliber -- which Poulin has accepted and now graciously supplies -- Marcy contributed her input explaining the important role that horses like Caliber play in helping our veterans adjust back to civilian life.
"Back in March 2009, with a gun to my head, the thought of my horse stopped me from pulling the trigger. Since then the back injury -- sustained from being struck by an IED while in Iraq -- and other hardships caused me to give away my horse. Now, SVTRC and the VA are giving me the opportunity to have the companionship, relaxation, and therapeutic aspects of having horses back in my life."
Marcy and Young explained that horses are right brained, they are in the moment, putting us in the moment. That has a calming effect and causes us to forget our problems. They also tend to be very sensitive to people's moods, and if you are feeling uptight, they get uptight. It's hard to work with an 1,400-pound uptight horse, so it forces you to calm down.
Marcy already had a lot of experience working with horses before coming into the program, so when the eight-week course was up she and Young arrived at a bartering agreement where Marcy now helps with odd jobs around the stables and helps Young prepare horses to be a therapeutic horses; this is done by exposing the horses and thus desensitizing them to activities that may otherwise frighten them. In return she continues to spend time with the horses that are so important to her.
Since SVTRC is non-profit and the cost of maintaining a horse with food, shelter, shoeing and veterinary care is in the vicinity of $600 to $900 a month, Young has had to think up some ingenious ways to help fund the programs. She noted that she also has many volunteers, without which she would not be able to offer the programs that she does.
One way the public can help is to become a Barn Buddy. As a Barn Buddy you can donate annually or monthly with varying levels of donation. That also gives you hugging rights to your Barn Buddy.
Another way to help is to eat. Ninety Nine Restaurant on Putney Road in Brattleboro is participating in a fundraiser called Dining for a Cause to benefit Southern Vermont Therapeutic Riding Center. Present a Dining For a Cause voucher on Wednesday, May 15, from 5 to 9 p.m. and 15 percent of your guest check will go the organization. You can download a voucher by visiting Southern Vermont Therapeutic Riding Center's facebook page.
There is also a saying that a horse is an angel without wings. In Caliber's case, that may very well be true.
For more information about SVTRC and any of their programs call Young at 802-221-4409 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.