Providing barbecue meals for displaced residents and emergency personnel is one small way to temporarily soothe the harsh realities of immense recovery efforts.
A Navy combat veteran who had suffered from PTSD, family problems, and unemployment had tried different programs, but nothing seemed to help.
After visiting the Foxfield, Connecticut farm where Foxfield F.A.R.M. (For A Recovery Mission) runs its equine therapy program for veterans, he decided to give it a try.
“Three weeks later he came up to me, put his arms around me, and said ‘Susan, I’ve got a job,’” says Susan Regan, founder and president of the program.
Before he had even finished the program, he also was able to get a car. And just eight months after graduating the program, he got a better job with a nationally known company with benefits. Not only has his family situation improved, but he was able to reduce some of the medication he was taking to treat his PTSD.
“This program helped him pull it together enough to get that job, to go forward, and he was just thrilled,” Regan says. “He has kept moving forward, being promoted at work, and he’s also improved things with his family.”
Regan and her husband Bill, who run the program, have mentored and helped 15 veterans since they started taking applicants last fall.
“I had been very interested in doing something for veterans for a long time,” says Regan, whose father served in World War II. “I had been a corporate person my entire life, but I also had an avocation with horses my entire life. I’ve taught hundreds of people how to ride, fox hunt, show horses, coaching, and so forth.”
Regan also in her spare time hosted a public access television program, and in 2016, she interviewed Sean Connolly, then state commissioner for Veterans Affairs in Connecticut. She mentioned to him, off air, that she was interested in starting an equine therapy program for veterans.
“He told me ‘I’m very aware of these programs and it’s an excellent idea, and I’d entirely support you with the idea of doing it,’” Regan says.
That was just the impetus she needed to get the paperwork started to set up a nonprofit organization and board.
Regan also began fundraising, seeking donations, and then, seeking horses to work with the veterans. Because another one of her avocations within her equine interests was polo, she decided that retired and rescued polo horses might be the best fit with veterans.
“Polo is a very aggressive, very physical game, and polo horses themselves are very used to all kinds of issues that (would cause) normal show horses to get more excitable,” Regan says.
“They’ve been in battle themselves. In fact, in World War I, horses were used to pull cannons. To keep the riders and horses battle-ready, they would play polo.”
The Foxfield F.A.R.M. program runs for six weeks, with two hours of individual instruction each week. Veterans pay only a $25 administration fee. During this structured program, they learn how to read horses’ body language, how to clean and groom horses, clean their stalls, understand veterinary care for horses, and how to recognize equine diseases, farrier work, riding, and more.
After graduating, they're able to get a job at a horse stable, or possibly join the Connecticut governor’s horse guard. Each session begins with a casual talk in the lounge, going over what will be covered in that week’s lesson, as well as talking about what’s going on in the veterans’ lives.
“Once they become immersed in working with a horse, it becomes a very natural way of healing,” Regan says. “Veterans are very private, but (through the work), they’ve opened up, and they’ve shared things with us that they haven’t even shared with their therapists.”
One of the challenges for the Foxfield F.A.R.M. is reaching out to more veterans — especially younger veterans who might really benefit from the program. The program is also open to first responders who have suffered from PTSD, too.
“Many don’t like to admit they have issues so it’s important to speak to them one on one,” Regan says. “But once they come to the farm, everything changes.”
Volunteers are reaching out to different veterans organizations, services, and therapists, and the organization is continuing to work on furthering their outreach efforts. Anyone who is interested or who would like to recommend someone to the program should visit their website.
“We’ve come a long way in a short period of time,” Regan says. “This stuff works.”
- article by Jeanette Hurt
Foxfield F.A.R.M (For A Recovery Mission) is a not for profit charity that has been established to provide an Equine Groundwork Training Therapy Program for U.S Veterans with PTSD incurred through military service.Learn More
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