Sunday, May 25, 2014

Memorial Day

How horses help soldiers...

Throughout human history and even as recently as World War II, horses were used extensively in battle.  World War I saw an incredible amount of horses. Great Britain lost over 484,000 horses and an estimated 6 million horses were used on all sides in the war.  The horses were used as Cavalry mounts, pulling supply wagons, and heavy artillery. Horses of all sizes and lineage were used, but there was a royal decree in WWI that height of 15hh was ideal for mounts.
Soldier and horse in gas masks.
The "Military Seat" is actually the style of riding I was first taught, being the foundation of the New Canaan Mounted Troop and the Silvermine School of Horsemanship where my first instructor was trained.

You may have read Michael Morpurgo's novel "War Horse", or have seen the stage play or feature film of the same name.  The story covers the life of Joey, a thoroughbred horse raised by a young boy, then sold to the war effort.  The boy enlists in the army in an effort to find his horse.  Historical fiction, of course, but still an intriguing look at the life of horses in the war.... and Benedict Cumberbatch is in the film.... riding... so... you know... there's that.

 I was fortunate to be able to see the play with my mom in NYC.  The horses in the play are puppets created by the Handspring Puppet Company and are incredible in their ability to express realistic horse body language.  It was easy to ignore the fact that they were puppets, and sometimes even the horses were confused....

Me, before seeing the play at the Lincoln Center in October, 2012.
Yes, I was annoyed by the nylon halter in the poster. Pretty sure it was all leather in WWI.

But let's be serious for a moment.

Did you know that today, horses are still helping our soldiers, but in a different way. Many veterans enjoy the benefits of Equine Assisted Therapy.  Equines provide soldiers with both physical therapy and psychotherapy through a variety of non-profit organizations including PATH, Horses4Heroes, and Saddles For Soldiers and many more national and local organizations.  Some centers simply offer time with the horses, others follow researched-based curriculum that targets PTSD, reintegration challenges, and physical therapy for limb loss, traumatic brain injury, and other emotional and physical challenges.

Equine assisted therapy is fast becoming a proven and well-researched field. Researchers are finding again and again that time with horses can help people of all ages and backgrounds progress through physical and emotional difficulties.

One such program is actually offered by the same horses that carry fallen soldiers to their final resting place in Arlington National Cemetery.

PATH International Photo
Other organizations throughout the country help soldiers and their families cope with the physical and emotional challenges.

On my list of things to do if somebody ever hands me 100 acres and a few million dollars, is to set up a ranch style resort for veterans and their families to reconnect and strengthen their relationships following their service.  I envision guided trail rides and camping where the family gets to accomplish tasks together such as camp set-up, campfire building/cooking, scavenger hunts, moving cattle, etc.

Until that day comes, thankfully, there are hundreds of volunteers and generous donors working to provide Equine Assisted Therapy to our veterans.  Thank a Veteran today and do whatever you can to ensure our fallen are remembered and our living heroes are supported.


  1. What a GREAT post! I haven't really given much thought to the horses that served (which is weird), but they were definitely instrumental, and still are!

  2. Yes, a terrific post! I would like to be your partner on that ranch. :) Wonderful idea!

    I know how much therapy I get from being around horses and riding them, and I don't have PTSD. Equine Assisted Therapy is the BEST thing ever, for kids/soldiers/everyone.