SHARON, Conn. (WTNH) – Visitors to this bucolic farm in Sharon are prepping horses for a peaceful trip to a field in the woods.
“I never imagined myself this close to a horse, so it’s very therapeutic,” said Devante Layne, a Yonkers, New York firefighter.
And that’s the mission of The Equus Effect, a program for veterans and first responders that aims to heal post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety through engagement with horses.
“It was this figure of 22 suicides a day among the veteran population, and we were just like, you know, this work we’re doing, maybe there’s a fit there for veterans,” explains co-founder David Sonatore, a social worker. He and his partner, Jane Strong, believe that “therapy as usual” doesn’t always work and that trauma is stored in the body.
But the nervous system is calmed through working with these sensitive, intuitive animals.
“They don’t mind if you feel vulnerable or are anxious or you’re afraid, but if you don’t reveal it to them, it looks like, ‘What’s up here?'” says Strong, who practices Somatic Experiencing, a therapy focused on a mind and body approach.
Participants work with horses and consult with human facilitators.
“We try to stand back, give people space, we let the horses reveal what may be going on,” she said. “We ask good questions without forcing things.”
“This is Dutch, a very sensitive but also assertive horse,” said Layne, who is taking part in three sessions alongside fellow firefighters from Yonkers, leading the horses through a unique obstacle course.
“I definitely think it’s another realm that can be utilized to bring us a lot more ease, especially with PTSD,” he said.
“The veterans and first responders don’t feel like patients. They feel like students, they feel respected,” Strong said.
The bond between a person and a non-judgmental animal brings stability, calm, and growth.
“It felt really great, really connected, just one of those things when once you start petting him, you don’t want to stop,” Layne said.
The co-founders have created a curriculum and are training facilitators nationwide.
The Equus Effect has a fundraiser coming up on September 30th.
Click here for details.