Nov 11, 2010 7:12 PM by Hoyt Harris
HORSES aren't magical but they are doing work that might make them seem that way. It's called Equine Assisted Psychoterapy, or E.A.P. It has horses helping soldiers returning from war in Iraq and Afghanistan cope with life.
Bill Langford of Carencro returned from military service in Vietnam 39 years ago. Upon his return stateside, the rigors of war and what he experienced there left him suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
"How did you cope with that?" I asked him.
"I didn't," he quickly replied.
He sought help but the medical advice he received was exactly what he did not want to hear.
"I went to the V.A.," he said, "and they said you have all the markers (of PTSD). You want to talk to a counselor. I said what anybody with PTSD would say: 'No, I don't want to talk to anybody."
"Why not?" I ask. "Because you thought there would be no empathy, no understanding?"
"That's right," Langford said. "No understanding."
After 30 years as an oil and gas chemical engineer, his passion is now his Carencro horse farm where horses--and one donkey--serve as 1500-pound therapists.
Langford is enthusiastic in promoting the value of E.A.P. He learned firsthand how horses can help people cope with traumatic stress.
"If we can learn to do that with horses, we can apply those same principles to life," he says.
E.A.P. has been successfully used to treat autism, behavioral problems and kids with 'boundary issues.' Now the method shows great promise treating veterans suffering with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
But why horses?
"Horses are very 'in the moment,'" Langford says. "They aren't smart enough to worry about what happened to them last week and they aren't intelligent enough to think about what's gonna happen next."
"They're very Zen?" I ask.
"Yes," Langford replies. "Horses are very Zen. What we're trying to do is teach people how to be 'in the moment,' even though we have a past and we're gonna have a uture. But we need to be centered in the moment."
Along with Langford, I entered the corral where untrained horses freely roam. He told me to go 'get' one of the horses and try to make it do whatever I wanted it to do.
"One of the things we want to look at is to see how they commicate wih each other," he said. "What do you see happening?"
At this point, I had begun stroking the head and neck of one of the horses, but after about a minute, the horse turned and took a step or two away from me.
"What do you see happening," Langford asked me.
"Hmmm, well this one doesn't like me very much and the donkey wants some attention," I said, as the donkey walked up to me as if to ask for a rub.
"Why do you say the horse doesn't like you?" Langford asks.
"Well, he went away," I reply.
"So, when people turn away from you, that means they don't like you?" Langford asks.
"Well, maybe I was rubbing him the wrong way, I don't know," I reply.
This elicits laughter from Langford and my cameraman, KATC chief videographer/operations manager Donald Ward.
But E.A.P. is serious business and it works. A recent study by the Georgia National Guard indicates 100 percent of P.T.S.D. soldiers who have undergone the therapy have met with success is "getting beyond" the disorder.
In most cases the animals are not ridden but just roam free in the corral. Exercises can be as simple as the client trying to make the horse do what the client wants it to.
Like soldiers who have been to war, horses rely on their heightened senses for survival.
These three-quarter-ton therapists give humans new choices for relationship and emotional growth.
"So," Langford says,"this is a lot like life's issues. They seem large and working with them will determine ways to move them. The way we approach life becomes a way you can use this experience in everyday life."
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates PTSD afflicts as many as one-quarter of troops returning from the Middle East, about 300,000 men and women.
The growing field of E.A.P. shows promise in treating veterans---and their families---suffering from the nightmares, anxiety, depression and irritability of PTSD, an invisible--yet very real--disability.