Trinity Equestrian Center to Partner with Veterans Administration for New Pilot Program

Trinity Equestrian Center, near Eau Claire, has offered mentoring programs for youth, horse-therapy-based programs for veterans, and leadership programs for organizations for several years now. Their programs seek to heal physical, spiritual, emotional, and cognitive injuries and disabilities, as well as building social skills, communication skills, and problem-solving skills.

One of the center’s main programs is its Veteran Horse Therapy, a wellness program for vets designed around equine-assisted therapy. This program is free to qualified vets and their families. They note on their website (www.trinity-ec.com/index.phtml), “Understanding the strategies for combat survival, as well as what symptoms might be exhibited in postwar veterans upon re-introduction to civilian life, is what makes our program so effective. We’ve seen great results with veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, addictions, guilt, grief, anger, panic attacks, sleep disorders, and spiritual injuries.”

As an expansion of their successful program, the center will soon be offering a pilot program in conjunction with the Veterans Administration in Tomah. Recently we asked Toni Mattson, co-owner and director of programs, a few questions about the new program.

A Second Opinion: What are your hopes for the program?  

Toni Mattson: Since 2009, we at Trinity Equestrian Center have provided thousands of free therapy hours for hundreds of veterans and their families struggling with PTSD and other service-related injuries. Additionally, for years we have extended an offer to the Tomah Veterans Administration to join in a therapeutic collaboration and provide a pilot program featuring our equine-assisted psychotherapy for some of their clients experiencing PTSD. We are thrilled to share that we have been given the green light to go ahead with the pilot program!

My hope for this relationship is not only to help many, many more veterans, but also to model a desperately needed alliance between government institutions and non-profits that shows collectively we can accomplish far more than what we all individually can do.

ASO: What do you envision for the program?

TM: I envision a multi-month series of weekly, 50-minute, equine-based therapy sessions. I expect it will be a blend of individual and group sessions with four veterans per group. The Tomah VA will determine who participates in the program, and our therapy team will design the format and approach. This level of collaboration and co-creation will be unprecedented in Wisconsin for this type of program.

ASO: Why have you and Trinity Equestrian Center decided to try it?

TM: I’m so confident with the work we do and immensely eager to expand the community of veterans we can and do serve. I also respect and admire organizations like the Tomah VA that look at things a little differently and embrace the concept of being willing do something different in order to get a different result. I love that!

ASO: How can people help support your work with veterans?

TM: You can help support the work the center does with veterans by participating in the 7th Annual Trinity Equestrian Center Horsepower for Veterans motorcycle ride. It will be held on Saturday, June 24, at the center, located at 5300 State Highway 37, southwest of Eau Claire. Besides the bike run to the Highground in Neillsville and back, there will be a continental breakfast, silent auction, veterans stories, an opening ceremony, a raffle, bike show awards, and, after working up quite an appetite with all of that, a BBQ chicken meal. For more information visit trinity-ec.com or call 715-835-4530.

It’s All About the Connection: Equine Therapy for Veterans

In the business world, a connection can result in a new job, a great promotion, and surprising opportunities. In our world at Trinity Equestrian Center, connections between horse and human result in changed lives…sometimes even saved lives!

Veterans come to us for help for many reasons relating to their service experience. Most often it falls in the broad category of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While there are many demons that lurk under that cover, one that disrupts the very foundation of their recovery is emotional detachment. While in combat, it was a critical skill that not only helped them cope with all they had to do and see, but it may be the very reason they survived. Without emotions you can analyze the situation objectively, do what you need to, and complete your mission.

Here are some statements from veterans:

“I feel empty, hollow…totally unattached from my family and friends.”

“My wife says she thinks I don’t love her or care about the kids anymore…I can’t feel anything anymore.”

“Sometimes I hurt myself just to prove that I CAN feel something…anything.”

Our equine therapy starts with a guided walk with our veteran among a selected herd of horses called a Herd Walk. We encourage our veteran to just “be” not so much “do” anything. Relax, watch, listen, and just co-exist. During this time, it never fails: a connection is made between the veteran and a horse. We can see it develop right before our eyes.

Over the weeks of equine therapy, that deeply rooted, trained skill of shutting off one’s emotions begins to dissolve and is softened by the unabashed, unapologetic desire of the horse to connect at a very deep and meaningful level with the veteran. That connection grows into a relationship, one that is unconditional, non-judgmental, and surprisingly welcomed. The veteran’s increased desire to connect with the horse and the liberating feelings that come from that connection slowly translate into a desire to reconnect with family, friends, and life.  It gives them hope. Hope that things can get better, in fact will get better. Hope changes everything. It saves lives.

After only a few weeks in our program, one of our vets shared that he had carried with him a suicide note for years prior to joining us for therapy. At the beginning of his fifth week’s session and with tears in his eyes, he shared the existence of the suicide note and that he had torn it up. Something he never thought he would or could do. He said, “I don’t need it anymore. I don’t wanna die, I wanna live! Lilly (his horse) changed everything for me.”

We go many different directions with our equine therapy and work on any issue the veteran brings to us or that is discovered on the journey. It is an incredibly effective method that gives them hope and saves lives.

Since 2009, Trinity Equestrian Center (TEC), a non-profit oganization has provided nearly 1,800 FREE therapy sessions to 140 veterans and their families who are struggling with the effects of PTSD and traumatic brain injury. With equine assisted psychotherapy, therapeutic riding, natural horsemanship, and prayer therapy that collectively produce an amazing 83 percent success rate