Utah State University’s equine program recently launched the Veterans Adaptive Riding Initiative, a special project focused on the benefits of equine interaction for disabled veterans and service members. The project will expand on current efforts and support additional programs to serve veterans throughout the Intermountain West.
The initiative is funded by a $156,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). The grant will allow the equine program to accomplish three objectives: expand Pathways to Horsemanship, engage veterans in trail rides through RideUtah! and create educational and participation opportunities through a collaboration with the National Snaffle Bit Association (NSBA).
Participants in the Pathways to Horsemanship program enjoy many therapeutic benefits through their involvement. Through the new initiative, this program will be expanded to serve 56 veterans in the region who suffer from post-traumatic stress, post-traumatic brain injury and other health conditions. Sessions will be led by trained mentor veterans, students in USU’s Equine Assisted Therapies and Activities (EAAT) minor and certified therapeutic riding instructors from the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH, Intl.).
Funding will also be put toward recruitment for RideUtah! trail rides, with the goal of engaging more underserved veterans. With this assistance, the program should be able to provide a meaningful experience for 80 disabled veterans or active service members in the region throughout the summer of 2020.
Further education and competition training will also be established. Six individuals from the Intermountain West will be sent to the NSBA Annual Coaches Summit in March. Additionally, the first Heroes on Horses Boot Camp will be held in June. This will be an adaptive riding competition training and recreational experience, open to 20 eligible veterans. It will also provide a learning experience for many EAAT students, VA healthcare professionals and PATH, Intl. therapeutic riding instructors.
According to the VA, there is a strong correlation between the use of support services and the risk of suicide amongst veterans. In our region, there is a lack of support services available to veterans, putting these individuals at risk, and a need to develop creative solutions.
The late Bob Adams, former president of the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences’ Alumni Council and strong supporter of the EAAT program, believed that riding could be used to help veterans heal mental, physical and emotional wounds. Judy Smith, EAAT program director, said that the Department of Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Sciences strives to honor Adams’ passion for serving fellow veterans through this initiative, which provides opportunities to engage with the veterans’ community and give back to those who have served our country.