A Central Alberta equine therapy program that helps veterans suffering from post traumatic stress, and their families, is off to a good start.
Three veterans and their spouses, from Alberta and Saskatchewan, attended the pilot session for Can Praxis held from March 14 to 16.
Professional mediator Steve Critchley, whose 28-year military career included a tour in Bosnia, teamed up with psychologist Jim Marland to offer the program at the Marland family’s Spruce Valley Ranch, northeast of Rocky Mountain House.
Marland said Can Praxis combines mediation and communication training with equine therapy.
Working with horses gives participants instant feedback on their stress, he said.
“It’s profound. I do lots of counselling, but some of my best conversations are with a horse between me and my client,” said Marland, an equine assisted learning facilitator.
He said horses are “a barometer on four legs” because they respond very quickly to body language.
“The horse is an animal of prey so it’s very sensitive to who or what is coming towards it. They have to figure out if we’re a friend or a foe. So they read our body language better than we do.”
During the program, veterans start by walking a horse through an obstacle course by themselves and eventually walk the horse through the course together with their spouse.
Marland said horses will respond to frustration or anger by stopping in their tracks. But once trust and respect is established, a horse will easily follow behind a participant without needing a rope to lead the animal.
“I think this program offers realistic hope for people struggling in their lives and relationships. It’s an opportunity to solve communication problems so couples can solve their real problems.”
On Tuesday, Can Praxis received a $4,000 cheque from non-profit Wounded Warriors that assists Canadian Forces members. The cheque was presented in Calgary by Lt. Gov. Donald Ethell.
The money will be used to help pay the cost of travel, food and hotel for participants.
The next Can Praxis session will be held in early May.
For more information, visit Can Praxis on Facebook or e-mail Marland at firstname.lastname@example.org.