Helping Hands: Healing veterans through horseback riding
summit daily news
Brad Myers is a third-generation horseman, trainer, teacher and veteran. So, it’s only natural he’s also the founder of Operation Silver Spurs, a nonprofit in Conifer that helps veterans assimilate to the civilian world through therapeutic horse riding.
Myers – who has been riding horses since he was four years old – got the idea after visiting Fort Myers, Va., in the spring of 2008 to evaluate training techniques of the horses that perform ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery. The same horses also participated in a therapeutic riding program for wounded warriors.
“I knew then what I would do for the rest of my life,” he said. “It’s a natural fit for me as a way to give everything back that was given to me in both the veteran and the horsemanship world.”
Myers went home and launched the nonprofit later that year. He said there’s two things that set his program apart from other therapeutic riding formats: His is open to all veterans – not just the wounded – and he brings participants in with the goal of independent riding, instead of just being led around.
“Other programs I had seen throughout the country were primarily just focused on wounded,” he said. “Being a third-generation (veteran),
I knew there were a bunch of other veterans out there that would benefit from this kind of program.”
Myers said because the curriculum is open to all veterans, he sees soldiers from different generations – those who fought in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq – reaching out to help each other.
“Veteran-to-veteran communication and trust just kind of happens naturally, and it’s very powerful.” he said.
Myers’ experience in the U.S. Marine Corps – which has given him the “warrior viewpoint” – also led him to the conclusion that soldiers would want to ride independently. He said many traditional therapeutic riding programs were designed from children’s rehabilitative riding curriculums.
“These are warriors; these are veterans,” he said. “They’ve been there, done that, seen it. They have a different outlook on how they want to approach a given task.”
People always ask Myers why he chooses to help heal with horses. He said the animals regenerate both physically and mentally: They not only help build balance and core body strength, but have a “magic” way about them that brings about self-assurance.
“They have a way about them that brings about our self-esteem, our courage, our commitment and our self-confidence,” he said. “They require that we really be a leader.”
Myers gave examples of both physical and mental healing riding provides. He said one young Marine enrolled in the operation after losing two-thirds of his right leg in Afghanistan, and experiencing difficulties in physical therapy. After only three horseback rides, he went from only being able to use the parallel bars in his therapy program, to using one cane. His outlook on rehabilitation had completely changed; he started to see it as a challenge, rather than a deterrent.
Another young soldier rode throughout a whole summer. At the end of the season, he told Myers he had been very close to taking his own life before the program, and that the horse he had ridden with saved his life. Myers said the young man is now very successful.
“The horse is a place of peace, a place where the warrior feels understood,” Myers said. “It’s very difficult, especially if you’ve been in combat, to feel understood by the world.”
Myers says the horses don’t only help veterans heal physically or mentally, but prepare them for the everyday world. He said he doesn’t like the word “therapy,” preferring “training” instead – a word former soldiers can relate to.
“We’re really reconditioning our warriors for civilian life; they’re going to training.” he said. “Those of use that are veterans are used to that. We’re used to saying, ‘I’m going to train,’ versus, ‘I need therapy.'”
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