Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Horses that Heal soldiers

June 23, 2009 10:00 pm, EDT
Every Sunday, Tuesday and Friday, of every week, a C-17 lands at Andrews Air Force Base bringing wounded soldiers back to US soil.

Some will go directly to Walter Reed Medical Center and others will go to the Veteran's Administration for care. Eventually, some of the injured will be assigned to Ft. George G. Meade's Warrior Transition Unit, an outfit of approximately 145 soldiers, half of whom have been injured in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

Most of the soldiers at Ft. Meade have the signature injury of the current wars, traumatic brain injury. Others have serious physical injuries and almost all suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

At a riding arena in Crownsville, Maryland, in a program called Horses for Heroes, about 50 of those injured soldiers from Ft. Meade will saddle up. It’s like a reverse form of “horse whispering”. The horse’s movements “speak” to and soothe the rider.

Maryland Therapeutic Riding (MTR) is providing horseback riding as a means of therapy for our injured heroes; one horse, one soldier, one leader. MTR is dedicated to doing their part with the growing need for therapeutic programs for the returning injured, and they do it for free.

Founded in 1996, MTR, not far from Annapolis, has a new 15,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art riding arena that allows daily riding sessions, rain or shine. The center is open from 7am to 7pm, seven days a week.

Ft. Meade began sending wounded soldiers to MTR earlier this year following a visit from Col. Kenneth O. McCreedy (Ret.) in 2008. He recognized immediately the impact it could have for war veterans.

"People who were basically non-functioning…as soon as you put them on a horse, their posture improved, they could respond to directions, they could talk...They were different people", said Ret. Col. McCreedy, who now holds a seat on the organization’s board of directors.

The riding center is an impressive operation with horses getting groomed three times a day and going through training sessions three times a week to maintain flexibility and strength.

Not all riders at MTR are rehabbing soldiers. The facility began by providing therapy-riding for adults and children with special needs such as autism and cerebral palsy.

Like all non-profits, it struggles with funding. On average, not counting labor, it costs about $10,000 a year for the care, feeding and training of every horse in the program.

For additional information on Horses for Heroes, please check their website: or call David Parry at 410-923-1187.

Examiner’s note: MTR itself has a special need: at least two more horses, preferably large breed such as a quarter horse-draft cross, because some of the military personnel entering the program are big men.

Author: Susy Raybon
Susy Raybon is an Examiner from Columbia.