Saratoga War Horse- a veteran's program to help heal other vets

Posted at: 02/07/2013 1:03 PM
Updated at: 02/08/2013 11:26 AM
By: Benita Zahn

In this horse arena going around in circles leads to self discovery.

It's where connections take place -- the work of a group called Saratoga War Horse.

Maria Romeo, Alicia DiNovo and Amy Giaquinto, are all either active military or veterans.

While not military, Bianca Krueger mom to a Marine, and I are invited to take part.

The foundation for the connection takes place hours before entering the ring when participants are taught to communicate with horses -- thoroughbreds who are no longer racing.

Like the soldiers, the horses are highly trained - world class - but now, in need of a new role; something different but just as valuable.

    This is not sport. It's a day of healing for all involved.  

" And this moves beyond therapy. It moves beyond horsemanship and we're doing something that we discovered actually works," says Bob Nevins, founder of Saratoga War Horse.
   The connection, says Nevins, reawakens feelings and a sense of self, key steps in healing.
   He's a decorated Vietnam War helicopter pilot and knows how the experiences of war and wearing a uniform can burrow into one's soul, limiting one's life when you return home.
  It can happen to anyone.

" You definitely feel a little more closed off and you definitely a lot more on alert" says Maria Romeo, "but you don't really feel you have an issue and if you do you don't want to admit that to anybody or yourself that you have one."

   She's one of the 50 or so vets and active military Nevins has facilitated this human - horse connection.
   He experienced it and was profoundly affected. Now his mission is providing the opportunity to all those who serve, who need it. He believes it can save lives.  

" As you always discover, people are always dealing with some kind of emotional issue and this horse process just seems to dissolve it. That's probably one of the best words I can come up with" says Nevins.

   For one afternoon troubles are crowded out by learning the wordless language of horses - then testing yourself in the ring - you and the horse - strangers at first but becoming friends at some level by being attentive, tuned in, inviting, trusting .. Connecting.

" But when you can make a connection with a horse at this level some kind of emotional breakthrough takes place which is the key" explains Nevins "And that is what helps veterans move on with their lives."

Maria Romeo:"Oh my God, it was like, you can have this much control and this much power and it feels, it was good 'cause in Afghanistan or wherever you're deployed to you feel like you're in this position of power or everything you do is so important and you're everyday tasks are saving lives. And you come home and you don't get that feeling any more. And when you're here you absolutely get it back."

Alicia DiNovo:"I felt so much more confidence around the horse and around everyone else her and I just feel like obviously not all my problems are gone but I feel like I can deal with them a lot better now."

Amy Giaquinto: "I went in there without trusting, um, you know I went in there I learned to let my guard down, to let an animal, to trust an animal to lead the way. It's hard to explain. It's quite a neat experience."

Bob Nevins: " This unconditional acceptance that ah, is very hard to explain. So I can talk about it all day."