Launched in 2010, EQUI-KIDS’ affiliate program, EQUI-VETS offers physical and mental healing through equine activities for armed service members wounded in the line of duty. Offering therapeutic horseback riding, horse care activities and outdoor experiences, this program is offered to active duty and retired veterans at no cost in honor of their dedicated service to our country. Interacting with the horse strengthens emotional bonds and builds trust and confidence with each session. The goal of the program is to assist in physical and mental healing through equine activities to help our heroes reconnect to their families and their lives.
The EQUI-VETS Service Program offers the support of fellow military personnel to assist with the therapeutic riding session. For those participants who do not wish to ride, many join our volunteer ranks to lend a hand on the farm.
The Virginia Beach/Hampton Roads area is home to the largest military population in the U.S. and is comprised of 10 active military installations. As of late 2018, the area hosts over 97,000 active duty service members and, combined with their family members, makes up 12.9% of the local population. An additional 13.5% is represented by veterans, constituting more than double the national average of 6.2%.
Returning veterans often struggle as a result of their military experience. The wounded warriors served by EQUI-VETS commonly face issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), depression, anxiety and other chronic mental illnesses. Approximately 18% of American veterans struggle with PTSD. Left untreated, the disorder can have deadly consequences. Veteran suicides are currently happening at a rate of 22 per day, a startling and heartbreaking statistic. These conditions make it extremely difficult for them to readjust to normal, daily life. Some traditional therapies are ineffective in healing those suffering from these conditions and those in the medical community are turning to alternative therapies as a result.
A recent study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) determining the effects of therapeutic horseback riding on PTSD in military veterans showed a statistically significant decrease following three weeks of therapy and again at six weeks. The NIH found that logistic regression showed that participants had a 66.7% likelihood of having lower PTSD scores at 3 weeks and 87.5% likelihood at six weeks.
Our current program is able to provide services to a growing but limited number of veterans per year with a community need and expressed interest in participation far exceeding our ability to serve. Approximately 75% of those served by the EQUI-VETS program are transitioning veterans. We have a current waitlist of several dozen individuals and two local veterans organizations who qualify for assistance through our program.