By Vincent O’Bannon, Journalism Guild Writer
Some imprisoned veterans in Connecticut are getting psychological help from an unusual source– horses.
The Equine Therapy program “is aimed at creating and maintaining healthy and mutually beneficial relationships through healing with horses,” said Renee Bouffard of Healing Hoofbeats, the sponsoring group.
The 10-week pilot program dubbed “Operation Warrior Horse” gives incarcerated veterans healing through equine-assisted therapy, The Associated Press reported Nov. 8.
“The incarceration is the punishment. It is our job, while they are here, to help them. And, this is one way we can do it,” said Correctional Commissioner Rollin Cook.
“You can label these people as inmates, but a more accurate title is human being. And these are human beings who have served our country and suffer from trauma and need our help,” Cook told AP.
“Learning how to do this allows our brains to form new neuropath ways and people take the knowledge of what it feels like to form these relationships and how to go about doing so into their lives outside the farm,” said Bouffard.
One participant, Daniel Elliot, said the program has helped him to open up about his problems and gives him something to look forward to each week. He is a Navy veteran, who suffered brain injury during a submarine attack.
Elliot said he didn’t feel comfortable talking about my problems until he met Hank and Sparky, two horses in the program.
“If I’m having a bad day, going through something that is a little more stressing, I show it to the horses, and they react. They let me know that it’s going to be OK,” said Elliot. “The last time I told Sparky, ‘I think it’s going to be all rright,’ and he gave me a big toothy smile.”
He is housed in a 110-bed unit in the Willard-Cybulski Correctional Institution in Enfeld.
Other prisons across the nation offer forms of equine therapy, but this is the first such program to be tailored to the needs of military veterans in prison, said counselor supervisor Aesha Nu’min.