In 2010, with the expanded capabilities offered through the new facility, EQUI-KIDS added the EQUI-VETS program, dedicated to those impacted by time serving our nation through the armed services. Because of the unique challenges faced by those leaving their military careers and readjusting to civilian life, serving transitioning veterans has been a priority of the EQUI-VETS program since its inception.
The 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, depression, anxiety and other chronic mental illnesses. Approximately 18% of Americans 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.
Studies show that even just three to six weeks of therapeutic horseback riding for veterans suffering from PTSD caused a statistically significant decrease in PTSD scores. Horses have long been recognized as strong, noble and courageous creatures. They are highly reactive animals and mimic human emotions, requiring calm and non-reactive communications. This, in turn, promotes emotional awareness, emotion regulation, self-control and impulse modulation. Working with horses in a therapeutic setting offers instant and constant feedback to participants, requires physical strength and balance, and is highly motivational. Combined, these elements result in an exceptionally effective rehabilitation environment and recovery process.
For those participants who do not wish to ride, many join our volunteer ranks to lend a hand at our facility. Participation in the program provides an opportunity for these individuals to reconnect with like-minded warriors who have similar struggles and experiences, thus facilitating a connection with their peers. As a result, the experience helps to empower these wounded warriors by building their courage, trust in others, self-awareness and self-confidence, as they learn to overcome their struggles.