THE FOURTH IN OUR SERIES FOCUSING ON ISSUES FACING LOCAL VETERANS
Rob Simison is a combat veteran who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Standing perfectly still, with his arms outstretched and raised to shoulder level, he is concentrating. His legs are spread wide, his head slightly tilted to one side, and his eyes are following the unruly behavior of a horse on the other side of the corral.
Nearby stands psychotherapist Cher Myers, who is a therapeutic riding instructor/equine specialist and owner of the nonprofit ranch, CODE H.O.R.S.E. She watches man and horse closely. The goal of the Lake County ranch is using equine therapy to help combat veterans deal with PTSD.
Casey, a horse that only moments earlier displayed tense and anxious behavior by twisting her head back and forth while side-stepping and pulling away from Rob, slowly notices the change in Rob, but was still agitated.
“Rob, take a breath, keep the intensity with your eyes and keep your breathing relaxed,” Cher coached. “Beautiful.”
As Rob followed Cher’s suggestion, Casey also shifted her behavior as she watched the veteran and slowly approached him. Rob quietly stood his ground. The horse edged closer. At last, the horse reached him and slowly nudged her head against his shoulder.
“Wonderful, Rob, good job,” Cher praised.
“It becomes a relationship where I have to make Casey feel comfortable and safe,” Rob says. “That forces me to go to a place where I am comfortable, and she feeds directly off me. She needs the assurance that my anxiety levels are coming down.”
Later Rob talked about what transpired between man and horse.
“I have a connection with all the horses here, but with Casey it’s particularly extraordinary,” he says.
Ronald Reagan once said, “There’s nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse.”
Horses are very sensitive to their environment both physically and spiritually according to Rob. They pick up on subtle nuances because they are prey animals and must be constantly on guard against predators.
“It becomes a relationship where I have to make Casey feel comfortable and safe,” Rob continues. “That forces me to go to a place where I am comfortable, and she feeds directly off me. She needs the assurance that my anxiety levels are coming down.”
PTSD is a condition that may last months or even years. A chronic condition, it can be something veterans deal with for the rest of their lives. Symptoms include nightmares, flashbacks, and anxiety.
“One of the hallmarks of PTSD is not realizing those anxiety levels are increasing and affecting everything,” Rob says. “Sometimes when I am going down that path, within an hour, I am literally a different person with a different outlook on life.”
While in the army, Rob was a medic who supervised 100 other medics and was responsible for the care of thousands of troops—an assignment that left its mark on the 32-year-old soldier.
He has reoccurring bouts of PTSD, and recently learned what many veterans have discovered: a horse can mirror a veteran’s heart and soul and facilitate the healing process.
“Even just grooming connects horse and rider,” Cher explains. “You see how his breath, his energy, and his focus affects this horse. The horse grounds him.”
Cher says just a flick of a horse’s ear can move a whole herd. “Its vibrational energy,” the therapist says. “The horse is following him because she trusted the process and found him as her leader and is looking to him. They are a herd now. Wherever he goes, she follows.”
Rob has seen firsthand how equine therapy works and recommends it to fellow veterans suffering from PTSD.
“When we moved down here last August, I was struggling really bad,” Rob says as he gently strokes Casey’s neck. “There were numerous times when it felt hopeless for me, and I asked myself hard questions about why I was even here. I still struggle with it. I know other veterans do as well. I say to them, ‘keep pushing—there is somebody or something you need that is out there.’ They just have to keep going and they will find it.”
If you are a veteran suffering from PTSD and want more information about CODE H.O.R.S.E. or if you would like to donate time, funds or services, visit www.codehorse.org or call 352.669.5554.
CODE H.O.R.S.E. has an Equine Combat Veteran Drill Team. If you would like them to perform at a function or parade call 352.669.5554.
CODE H.O.R.S.E. is a proud member of the R4 Alliance (www.r4alliance.org), an organization whose member nonprofits promote healing through recreation.