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Horses Take on Role as Therapists for War Veterans Struggling with PTSD

ABC Ballarat By Jess Davis

Horses Healing War Veterans Video - Ballarat ABC

Tucked away in the forest behind Victoria's potato growing town of Trentham in Central Victoria is a secluded property where horses are being used to help Australia's war veterans.

Owner Dean Mighell started Equine Therapy because he wanted to combine his love of horses and his desire to help veterans.

"Sometimes it's about finding peace and calm, for a lot of our servicemen and women who have been subjected to some pretty abnormal events in their life," he said.

Mr Mighell knows the pressures of life in the defence force. He served in the army's special operations command in the 1980s.

After leaving the army Mr Mighell found his own peace through a love of horses and thought they would be perfect to help veterans struggling with mental illness.

​"I've got a place here in Trentham, the sun's out, we're surrounded by the bush, and some pretty contented horses. And I thought: 'How can I use them?'" he said.

"I got curious about what people do in other parts of the world and how they use horses to help people build awareness and help them with mental health."

After studying equine psychotherapy Mr Mighell discovered why horses had an ability to calm humans.

"They're an extremely aware animal, they're not distracted, they have an ability to regulate their nervous system I just love, and when they're calm with you, you'll get this beautiful long out-breath."

Veteran Daniel Cooper, served in the Air Force in Afghanistan and travels up from Melbourne to take part in the sessions.

"The last deployment I had a really bad car accident and that kind of led to everything else when I got back home, a whole heap of mental health issues," he said.

'The physical issues were there but they're easy to deal with and, yeah, life kind of changed big time from that point forward."

Not only was Mr Cooper left with physical injuries but he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression as well.

"Ever since it's happened I found it very difficult to connect with people," Mr Cooper said.

After trying a lot of different therapies, Mr Cooper said horse therapy had been the most useful.

"The way we can interact with the animals while I guess inadvertently treating or addressing some of those mental health problems has been really helpful and a completely different approach to it," he said.

"Where I'm not just having to relive everything over and over again."

Dean Mighell said he hoped equine therapy would become more common in the future.

"I think as word spreads about what we do and how we can help people, people may be more curious about us and give us a go," he said.

"I'd love the army to work with us down the track."

And for veteran Daniel Cooper, the therapy was helping him get life back on track.

"It's a process, but anything I can do like what I'm doing here is definitely making it a lot easier for me."


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