Horses used to treat, manage PTSD

Credits: Mike Drew/Calgary Sun/QMI AGENCY


CALGARY - Horses can help soldiers fight a different kind of war, coping with post traumatic stress disorder, say the founders of a new program.

Founded by retired warrant officer with Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians), Steve Critchley, and psychologist and equine assisted learning facilitator Jim Marland, Can Praxis aims to help soldiers cope with operation stress injury, more commonly known as PTSD, and reconnect with their spouses after returning from service.

Their secret weapon, is horses.

The program is looking to relaunch after the plug was pulled on it by the Canadian Forces Health Services in October 2011, Critchley said.

Critchley, who became involved with conflict resolution after retiring from the military, settled north of Calgary to an acreage where he breeds Canadian horses.

"I realized that working with horses helps identify problems with people -- horses are a great litmus test," he said.

"If you imagine someone with PTSD or OSI (operational stress injuries), one of the major difficulties is people not aware of how their attitudes, how their body language, how everything that they are doing could be seen as aggressive or offensive to other people."

The three-day program located near Rocky Mountain House, about 200 km north west of Calgary, invites soldiers and their spouses to guide a horse through an obstacle course to help them with their communication and deal with conflicts in the household.

"They need to communicate in a way that doesn't cause the horse stress because if they are being stressful towards each other the horse picks that up and the horse will stop paying attention to them which then can create more stress," he said.

"The horse will let you know if your conversation is good or bad -- the horse is there as an impartial observer."

Critchley is looking to obtain official sanction from Canadian Forces for approval in sending serving veterans to the program.

"At the same time, we are look to conduct the program, the pilot, with retired veterans and retired reservists," he said.

They are seeking a minimum $4,000 to run the program and are in the process of setting it up as a non profit organization.

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