One way the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania supports veterans in our community is by funding a horse therapy program at Thorncroft Equestrian Center in Malvern, Chester County. Through a partnership with the Coatesville Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC), veterans in the VAMC’s Community Living Center can learn to ride horses. The program was originally funded by a grant from the Defense Department (as seen on this story on 6 ABC), but once the grant ended, the American Red Cross took over support of this valuable therapy program.
The benefits of horse therapy are numerous for the four veterans that participate in the program once a week. Alex, Ray, John, and Bob have a wide range of health conditions and medical limitations, and some are confined to wheelchairs. Recreational therapist at the Coatesville VAMC, Ellen Barnes says, “The biggest benefit that everybody has is they just feel so loved here. They just really enjoy coming here. They have a great rapport with the volunteers and the staff who are here and they love seeing the animals.”
Riding a horse is also a form of exercise. Horseback riding improves riders’ balance, core strength and endurance. Ray, a Vietnam Era vet, has severe physical limitations. Originally Ray couldn’t make it even 5 minutes on the horse, but now he rides for the full 30 minute lesson and is working to keep his hands off the saddle for the duration. Ellen says he puts up a fight if he has to miss a lesson. These small goals and achievements help the veteran’s gain confidence and pride.
Horse therapy has emotional as well as physical benefits for the participants. Riding and caring for the horses improves the overall welfare of veterans by giving them a close connection to another living thing and a way to engage in a healthful activity despite their physical limitations. At 94, Alex, a World War II veteran, is legally blind and in a wheelchair, but he rides the horse with ease and with a smile spread across his face. According to Ellen, “this is something the veterans look forward to every week, and it is clearly apparent when watching them ride.”
For these men, coming to Thorncroft has significantly improved their lives and their well-being. The program gives the veterans something to look forward to the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania is proud to lend its support.
Watch the Full Video: Horses Helping Veterans Get Well in Suburban Philadelphia