OU Southern Uses Horses To Help Veterans

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Riding a horse is fun: lots of people like to climb in the saddle for a gallop in the countryside.

Then there are those who ride a horse for therapy, to get help with a disability.

Recently, military veterans began therapeutic riding at the Ohio.

“We have 180 acres here that are owned by the university and we have barns and our pastures and everything like that all in one spot,” said Katie Bantz, a program assistant in Equine Studies at Ohio University Southern.

“The therapeutic riding program is part of the university as well, and we run it on our facilities. The therapeutic riding barn has the stalls that house the horses we use in the therapeutic riding lessons and it also has a classroom over here,” said Bantz.

The Ohio Horse Park has long offered programs for kids and adults with disabilities.

Having vets as participants is something fairly new.

“We’re working with the VA out of Huntington and we actually have quite a few individuals from them right now, we have three that come one day and two that are coming another day and they all have loved it so far and we love working with the veterans. One of the groups that comes, it’s more geared towards the physical aspects of things in a way and the other is more like cognitive and things like that, but we crisscross everything," says Bantz. "You know, we look at their goals: if they want more independence, we’re going to push them to be more independent and doing things on their own. What can you accomplish that’s going to make you feel good? And then we’re going to talk to them about it. If it’s more of the physical, we’re going to do a lot of change of direction when we’re riding, we’re going to do a lot of weaving, we’re going to do a lot of different activities that’s going to make the horse move and test their balance and build their core strength."

Bantz says the therapy is effective because it stimulates riders' muscles as well as their brains.

“The horse is the only animal that can mimic the human walk. So, if you have an individual that’s in a wheelchair and doesn’t walk, they can feel the movement of what it feel like to if they were actually walking on their own,” said Bantz.

During each session, participants work with a therapeutic riding instructor and volunteer assistants.

“We have one individual who is partially paralyzed and he and his wife come on a weekly basis and their family friend was actually a physical therapist and she just wanted to come and see and the first thing out of her mouth when I asked ‘so what was your opinion of it?’ was ‘I have been trying to get him to sit like that for months. And you guys did what I’ve been working on in five minutes,” said Bantz.

And that's not the only success with assisting veterans in their recovery.

“Riding horses actually works with a part of the brain that does vocalization as well, so we have a lot of individuals, especially one of our veterans…he is non-verbal. Riding his horse has made him start singing; he’s starting to try to talk to us. It took us all by surprise, one day he’s riding around and he starts singing country western music and things like that,” said Bantz.

A former OU-Southern equine program student who was a vet gets credit for putting VA officials in touch with the school.

“He gave the information to the VA and we started a partnership with them that way and we really lucked out at first. We had a couple of people come in and it was ‘let’s see how well this is going to work for them, let’s see if this is something they want to join up with us and help continue to make possible’ and it’s worked out wonderful. And because of that student, we have branched out tremendously with the veteran popularity and population and things like that,” says Bantz.