An equestrian therapeutic pilot program was started at Fort Meyer, Virginia by volunteers from Caisson Platoon Old Guards. Instead of the elegant journey to Arlington National Cemetery to lay their fallen comrades to rest, wounded soldiers were trained as horse leaders and side walkers with the aim of improving their balance and coordination, and reaping other benefits of physical therapy through horse riding.
The pilot program
In May 12 – June 2, 2006 Caisson Platoon helped wounded and amputee soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan in what is known as “soldiers for soldiers” model. Not only are the wounded soldiers taught but the horses are carefully handpicked and trained as well.
Here was how the concept worked in the three-week program of four sessions.
During the initial session, the rider’s skills are evaluated and a baseline is established. The next sessions progressively challenge the riders as they are given tasks with varying levels of difficulties. Tasks range from working with horses, relay racing and barrel trot racing where the riders were pushed towards improving their skills in every session.
Working alongside with the volunteers was a Walter Reed Medical Center occupational therapist to assess every rider’s skill in certain areas before and after every ride. From what the therapist observed, he or she noted that when the riders adjusted to the horse’s motion, it helped with core strengthening the lower back and hips. At the same time, it takes pressure and pain off the amputated limbs. A new core for balance and a revived sense of control were developed by the riders.
The equestrian therapeutic program is now popularly known as the Horses4Heroes program. Different therapeutic riding programs for the wounded soldiers can be found all over the USA. The program is being undertaken under the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH International) after the successful pilot program in Ft. Hood and Ft. Meyer.