USU instructors use horses to help veterans suffering with PTSD

Feb 12, 2023, 10:50 PM | Updated: Feb 13, 2023, 10:19 am

CACHE COUNTY, Utah — Some instructors at Utah State University are helping veterans through tough times with the help of horses.

There are sometimes events in life that cause people to withdraw. At times it may take a careful touch that humans cannot replicate to rebuild trust.

“It’s just a really lovely way to connect with the horse,” said Brian Kartchner, a veteran who is a part of the program.

And for some veterans, like Eileen White, know that feeling.

“Horses, they live in the moment,” White said.

Eileen White with horse Sven. (KSL-TV’s Mike Anderson)

White is an Air Force veteran who started working with horses several years ago.

“Something happens when you work with these horses that brings the therapy along much much faster,” she said.

Moments like these with Sven, a Norwegian Fjord, can seem almost magical.

“They’re a mirror of your reflections of what you’re going through at that time in your life,” White said.

All reasons why these equine-assisted services are offered at USU and are free to veterans through the Veteran’s Administration.

“By creating this space that is safe, and making space for that, a lot of amazing things happen for them,” explained Judy Smith, Director of USU’s Equine-Human Science program. “We are working very hard to elevate the science behind it, and the dynamic of the horse connection has really become very special.”

In fact, she is studying that connection and sharing findings with the VA, which could lead to more programs like this around the country. And very recently, USU opened up a new, professional-showman-level arena where that critical work can be done.

A group of veterans with their horses for the day. (KSL-TV’s Mike Anderson)

The new arena was named after Robert A. Adams, a USU alumnus who was a Vietnam veteran and lost his battle with PTSD. Adams was one of the founding members of this very program.

“I’d come home, and I’d just be happy. I’d be relaxed because it was just such a relaxing fun environment to get into,” Kartchner said.

Kartchner is another example of the program working. He served a tour in Iraq with the Army. He came here at first to find something he was missing.

“It really brings back that sense of purpose and that sense of comradery in a really great environment in a great way that just really builds who you are,” he expressed.

Veterans like Kartchner and White can serve as mentors to newcomers to the program. White is also seeking a certification, so she can continue to help others by working in a similar program.

“It helps build that partnership (and) helps build confidence in the individual,” White said.

She and the others insist that while that connection may seem magical, there is a clear science behind why it works.

“They’re very intuitive animals,” White expressed.

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USU instructors use horses to help veterans suffering with PTSD