Horses are helping local veterans heal

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OTTAWA LAKE, Mich. (13abc Action News) - Many of the men and women who serve our country suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. There's a local program aimed at helping them get through their struggles. While people are certainly part of it, horses help make the biggest difference for the vets.

Since it was started in 2011, the Healing Of Our Veterans Equine Services program or HOOVES, has helped hundreds of vets and their families.

Sebastian is a six-year-old retired racehorse. He is one of five horses that are part of the program. His new job is helping heal veterans when they come home from war.

Wes Byrd is one of the vets who says horses have changed his world.
Wes spent nine years in the Army with two tours of duty in Iraq just 27 months apart, "For 15 months straight, I didn't have time to think about anything other than my job in Iraq. Then 8-9 months later I was deployed back to the same place. I truly didn't have time to process.I struggled without the structure."

When he first came home after that second deployment, Wes says he was lost and spent most of his time alone. He grew up around horses in Texas, so he knew a little bit about their healing power. In fact, he said his horse in Texas helped him get in shape to enlist in the Army. He was eager to be part of the HOOVES program, "Anything you are going through they feel, they know and they help you. It is amazing and powerful to see."

HOOVES was started by Amanda Held, "This program saved my life just as much as everyone else. I could not be where I am in life on so many different levels if it weren't for the horses."

Amanda knows exactly what these vets are going through. She says she also suffered from PTSD, but has since been healed. Having grown up with horses, she knew they could help her help others, "They have a healing power you can't find anywhere else. It is tough for some to understand, but I have seen them change people lives in a single day. I have seen it happen over and over again. The horses show up in a way that helps people break down walls and open doors that no one else has been able to do. The horses are a feedback loop. As a person interacts with them, the horse reads their body language. the horse then projects back to them what they were putting out there. The horses act as a mirror."

HOOVES is an equine assisted therapy program. Many of the horses have been rescued, and are getting a second chance too The veterans work through issues by working with the horses. Wes says it's better than any other help he has received,"If you're in a bad mood they won't work with you. You have to level out and settle down because they won't settle down until you do. It gives you a clear picture of what you are putting out there for others."

Amanda says it is a long-term help for the vets, "The great thing about what we're doing is that the person is coming to their own realization, which means it's sustainable and immediate. I have seen many lives restored."

Amanda says while there are many incredible stories. There's one in particular that keeps her motivated, "I had a man give me a bracelet with a bullet in it that he was going to use to take his own life. He says the horses showed him what he needed to do to get better. That was over a year ago. He says he doesn't need the bracelet as a reminder anymore, so he gave it to me. He attributes the change in his life directly to the horses."

So many lives changed by Amanda and her herd of horses, "It doesn't happen overnight. It took four years, but I feel like a whole different human being."

There a number of ways to get involved with the HOOVES program.
You can donate time or money. There is also a chili cook off and craft beer tasting fundraiser on November 11th. We've posted links.
You can also learn more about enrolling in the programs offered to vets and their families.