Walter Reed launches equine activity for Soldiers in transition

WTU Force Structure Soldiers in transition and their families participate in the Horses Help Heroes program (Photo provided by: Walter Reed Warrior Transition Battalion)

By Whitney Delbridge Nichels, Warrior Care and Transition

ARLINGTON, Va. - A new activity at the Walter Reed Warrior Transition Battalion is giving Soldiers in transition the chance to get back to basics with the help of some four-legged friends.

Every other week, a group of Soldiers and their families participate in Horses Help Heroes, a Maryland-based program that provides equine therapy for veterans.

“The program benefits each Soldier who participates in a different way,” said WTB physical therapist Dr. Katherine Bentley. “Some soldiers participate because they want to learn how to care for and ride a horse. Others just like being in the setting around the horses. It has also been a bonding activity for the Soldiers who attend the group.”

The program is the brainchild of United States Marine Corps veteran Dean Massey who found himself struggling with his own recovery in early 2016.

“I was dealing with chronic PTSD,” Massey said. “I spent a lot of my time isolated and secluded and fell into problems with addiction.”

Massey began working at a local horse rescue to give himself something to do. That decision changed his life.

“In a short period of time, people noticed a change in me. I found myself being more present, I learned how to trust and I was sleeping better at night,” Massey said.

Hoping to provide other veterans with the same experience, Massey adopted a horse and from there, Horses Help Heroes grew into the program it is today.

“I love this program because it incorporates all six of the domains of the Comprehensive Transition Plan into one activity and meets different goals for each Soldier,” Bentley said.

Soldiers are given a chance to interact with the horses in a variety of venues - from a horse sanctuary to a working farm. Bentley says for many of the Soldiers, it provides a safe space to relax and learn new skills in a non-judgmental environment.

“This program gives them a hobby they can utilize not only while at Walter Reed, but also after their transition,” Bentley said. “My primary objective is to see it reach as many Soldiers as possible.”