Horses help heal local veterans one hoof at a time

Schoharie County

COBLESKILL, N.Y. (NEWS10) — SUNY Cobleskill is currently offering a new Therapeutic Horsemanship Veterans Program during its Winter Session, from December through January 2021. The school also launched a “Therapeutic Horsemanship Life Skills Micro-credential,” free to veterans wishing to register through the Winter Session program.

Participants commit to a five-week-long, hands-on time with horses at Cobleskill’s Equine Center in-ground programming or recreational horseback riding. Weekly, hour-long sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays will be limited to four participants each in order to maintain social distancing. The program is open to veterans of all physical abilities, and no training or experience with horses is necessary.  

“Our horses are easygoing and intelligent, and they want to interact with people. The horses themselves do much of the teaching when it comes to riding and handling and that, in itself, is calming,” said Carolyn Nelson, veterans program manager and Marine. “We as veterans are used to being stoic and not showing our emotions. Horses pick up on our emotions and it’s that gentle understanding that the horses show which encourages a restorative experience.”

The SUNY Cobleskill Therapeutic Horsemanship Program collaborated with the Albany Stratton VA Medical Center for an unmounted equine program in 2019. Feedback and evaluations from those veterans reported lowered depression and anxiety symptoms.

Veterans who want to find out more about the program should contact Nelson via email. The program is currently taking applicants for the spring semester.

The program is made possible through donor support and an Adaptive Sports Grant from the federal Department of Veterans Affairs. Cobleskill’s is one of 14 equine therapy programs in the nation to receive such a grant in 2020. It will help fund increasing access to the program for veterans with disabilities, for example, by acquiring a lift to help veterans who use a wheelchair to mount a horse.

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