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This therapy program uses horses to help veterans find footing back home

War Horses for Veterans, an equine therapy organization, helps military veterans adjust to civilian life.
by Donna Freydkin / / Source: TODAY

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It’s no secret that all too often, soldiers coming home after being deployed have a tough time adjusting to civilian life. Such was the case for Patrick Benson, an Army veteran who served two tours from 1998 to 2004.

“After I got out, I started having these emotions, these feelings were coming up, I had no idea what they were. I didn't know what PTSD was. Stuff was not feeling right,” he says.

So he decided to take action, through a grant from The Home Depot Foundation. He now works with other veterans after starting an organization called War Horses for Veterans to help service members connect with one another, and their animals, on the ranch.

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For three days, veterans can bond and network, in a relaxed rural environment. It’s equine therapy, with major results. And that's vital, because according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, an estimated 12.1 percent of Gulf War veterans, for example, suffer from PTSD.

"The veterans that come through, you watch the shell just being chiseled away and fall and hit the ground,” says Benson.

The experience is so rewarding that it now has repeat customers. Veteran Jeremy Harrell is back, and this time he’s a mentor, helping new participants potentially change their lives. He’s such a convert that he started his own program to help soldiers in his home state of Kentucky.

When you’re around an unpredictable animal that weighs up to 2,000 pounds, you have to focus and be present. Equine therapy, according to Psychology Today, can be effective because horses feed off and respond to our feelings. Meaning, if you're angry, the stallion or mare will be, too. Working with them can help you build trust, and become more in touch with your feelings.

"It's not easy to talk about these things, it's not easy to relive events, but it's effective and I try to lead by example in that way. I try to tell them this is where I was, this is where I'm at now, in a more stable place, a healthier place,” says Harrell.

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