On a warm summer day, a Veteran paused as he approached a nervous mustang named Trapper. There was tension in the air as Trapper held his head high and seemed ready to run. The Veteran took a deep breath and exhaled, relaxing his shoulders. Almost instantly, Trapper responded by lowering his head and his body posture eased. After a few more breaths, the Veteran was able to reach out to touch Trapper and connect even further with this once wild mustang.
Trapper is one of eight horses that belong to War Horse Creek, an immersive transition training program using rescued wild mustangs to assist Veterans as they adjust to civilian life. The three-day workshops are centered around a concept called “Collaborative Horsemanship,” in which Veterans are taught proper horsemanship from the ground up.
Collaborative Horsemanship is exactly what it sounds like: a collaboration between horse and human. Through this process, the Veteran becomes more in tune with his or her mind, learning that force will not lead to a positive outcome. Cooperation and listening are essential for success with a horse, and in life. Acquiring these skills with horses in a non-threatening environment makes it easier to utilize those same skills when placed back in day-to-day life.
Unlike Equine-Assisted Therapy (EAT) programs, Collaborative Horsemanship does not involve traditional therapy or direct therapeutic modalities. If any therapy takes place, it’s organic. While War Horse Creek does often have a trained therapist on site in case a veteran wants to explore a therapeutic approach, therapy is not on their agenda. “In Collaborative Horsemanship, the horse is the therapist,” shares War Horse Creek Executive Director Ray Barmore. “The veteran walks away understanding how to communicate with a horse through a mutual language of energies and emotions.”
Air Force Veteran Itzel Barakat shared her experience at War Horse Creek: ”I didn’t have to say a word to anybody. I felt my heart healing, and that’s what I needed. War Horse Creek provided a sense of relief and peace that I haven’t been able to find.”
Acquiring life skills with horses in a non-threatening environment makes it easier to utilize those same skills when placed back in day-to-day life.
War Horse Creek’s Collaborative Horsemanship workshops are now available to Veterans and are held in the beautiful San Jacinto Mountains of Southern California. Veterans can sign up for a workshop on the War Horse Creek website at warhorsecreek.com/attend-a-workshop.
War Horse Creek is part of Living Free Animal Sanctuary, a non-profit organization whose primary mission is to rescue dogs and cats whose time is up at public shelters. Living Free has been operating for over 40 years, serving as a refuge for those in need of a second chance. To learn more about Living Free, visit living-free.org.