Equine therapy program helps veterans and their families cope with loss and PTSD

CHARDON, Ohio - Operation Horses and Heroes helps active duty soldiers, veterans and their families heal using equine therapy.

The therapists told News 5 that the horses mirror the emotions of humans, so equine therapy helps them deal with their emotions rather than running away from them, bury them deep inside.

Bill Knop told News 5 about his son Alan Knop who died in 2005, after being deployed to Iraq. He was just 22 years old.

"It's any parents worst fear, when the car pulls up the driveway and you know it's a military vehicle," Knop said, "It never goes away, people think it does but it never does. Even though it's all these years later, it helps me to deal with some of those emotions."

Sharon Carey not only dealt with sexism but sexual assault in the 90's in the U.S. Air Force

"Just had to work twice as hard twice as much to prove that I was worthy," Carey said.

She thought she was okay, until she just a few years ago, when started having symptoms of PTSD.

"A few years ago as a civilian, I had a man come up behind me and grab me, " Carey said. "That was a trigger, it sent me back 14 years."

The program doesn't use machines or drugs, just horses and is run by Dr. Michael Godfrey, who goes by Dr. G. who also happens to be a veteran.

She said there are multiple steps, including getting introduced to the horses' personality, sitting down for a therapy session, and then interacting with the horses.

"If a veteran is anxious, they might learn to calm down, so they can do things in real time," said Godfrey.

Knop attended a previous Horses and Heroes program and is hosting the program this year.

Knop hardly talked about his lost son for more than a decade but has now learned to share his story and proudly displays a picture of him in his house, after attending the program.

"I'm very proud of him for serving his country and it wasn't a waste," he said, "That's what I would tell him, and that I miss him, and that I love him."

Operation Horses and Heroes is an intensive, multi-day program. Using a variety of activities, beginning with simple care and grooming to therapy sessions, the days are filled with opportunities for personal growth and learning while providing ample time to bond with others who have shared similar experiences from their military careers. 

The program has been held in five states, including Ohio, Illinois, Michigan and Georgia. 

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