IRONSTONE FARM’S NEXT VETERANS EXPERIENCE
LEARN ABOUT OUR VETERANS EXPERIENCE
Typically one day a week for eight weeks
Tuesdays or Thursdays
To register, call 978-475-4056
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
Veterans who have experienced trauma and anxiety are saying a program involving the horses at Ironstone Farm has been better therapy for them than anything else they’ve done since returning from combat.
The program was started in April 2013 and was the cover story for the fall 2013 issue of “Combat Stress,” a quarterly publication of the American Institute for Stress.
[See magazine by clicking here.]
Since its start, it has received support on many fronts.
It can be challenging for veterans returning from combat to return to their civilian lives. Veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress have high rates of unemployment, poverty, homelessness and abuse. The equine encounter at Ironstone Farm is meant to help veterans adjust to their non-combat lives.
War on Terror combat veteran Clinton Strong, says he often used fear and intimidation to get what he wanted. That didn’t work with the horses — and the Ironstone retreat helped him to realize it wasn’t working well with other people either.
“It’s kind of hard to intimidate a 1,000-pound animal,” Clint laughs. “But when we were in the service you had to bark orders, use our rank and our strength to lead others. That’s not necessarily the case in the civilian world. That lack of voice communication really made me realize how I was using my body language and other forms of communication.
“It was a whole lot simpler when I showed the horse what I wanted it to do, when I led by example,” he says.
Robert Kirk, a veteran of two War on Terror tours overseas, agrees. “It’s a big difference telling a PFC to go to point B and they’re running, than to get a horse to follow you,” he says with a chuckle. “If they don’t want to move, they’re not going to move.”
Ironstone’s program was created by University of New Hampshire Kinesiology Professor Pam McPhee and Paul Smith, Ph.D, a faculty member of Prescott College and director of Centaur Leadership Services; it was adapted for veterans with the help of former Navy Seal Dave Ferruolo, then a master of social work student.
Following a successful pilot program in the spring of 2013, Ironstone Farm has been offering additional programs as funding has allowed.
Robbie and Clint say the equine encounter for veterans with post-traumatic stress and other issues with reintegration was more effective for them than traditional methods, such as sitting on a couch talking to a counselor. Veterans like Robbie say the program also helped them to trust someone or something outside their military unit.
“I never thought a horse would teach me so much about myself, but it really did. And having the support from the therapists here to guide me and show me what I was doing wrong and how I was acting and why the horse wasn’t doing what I needed it to do or wanted it to do, it made a big difference,” said Clint.
“With a counselor you say something and it’s ‘how do you feel?’ Sometimes I’m just saying what I think someone wants to hear,” says Robbie. “Here, it’s an inner experience where you’re figuring out all at once how to make things move.”
When military personnel are sent off to war they receive weeks of basic training. When they return, there is little to help them reintegrate, say Clint and Robbie. But they say the Ironstone program does help people returning from the War on Terror transition back to civilian life.
“It’s a cool concept to take your relationship with that horse to get that horse to do something, and understand how you’re controlling the situation – or not controlling the situation – and put that into your real life with your relationships with other people, with civilians, from children to adults. It helps you take a different approach to things,” says Robbie.
Robbie and Clint were so impressed with the program that they began volunteering weekly at Ironstone Farm, helping other clients at the farm.
To register for a future Ironstone Farm Veterans Experiment call Ironstone Farm at 978-475-4056 or send an email to our director of operations firstname.lastname@example.org