Equine Assisted Psychotherapy

Drive On Podcast
Drive On Podcast
Equine Assisted Psychotherapy

Dr. Sally Broder is the executive director for HorseSensing. Their mission is to help veterans more successfully transition back to civilian life through the use of horses.

Equine-assisted psychotherapy is not a traditional therapy offering that you might find through the VA or other government organizations. We discuss it in this episode as another alternative for veterans who might not be responding to more traditional therapies.

Dr. Broder talks about how equine-assisted therapy can help veterans in recovery from addiction a path to staying clean and sober. It can also help with PTSD, anxiety, hyper-vigilance, and other associated conditions.

Check out this episode and HorseSensing if this seems like something that might benefit you or a loved one.

Links & Resources


Scott DeLuzio:    00:00:00    Thanks for tuning in to the Drive On Podcast where we're focused on giving hope and strength to the entire military community, whether you're a Veteran, Active Duty, Guard, Reserve, or a family member, this podcast will share inspirational stories and resources that are useful to you. I'm your host, Scott DeLuzio. And now let's get on with the show.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:00:22    Hi everybody. Today my guest is Dr. Sally Broder. She is the executive director for the organization, Horse Sensing.  Their mission is to help Veterans transition back to civilian life more successfully through, being with horses. Welcome to the show, Sally. I'm sure there's a whole lot more to it than what I just said there. So why don't you tell us more about yourself and your background and everything that you do.  

Sally Broder:    00:00:51    Thank you. I'm so glad to be here. Thank you very much.  Well, so you started it off very well. So, what we're trying to do is help Veterans be able to transition successfully. And the way that we do that is we have two different things that we offer for Veterans; two basic banks. One is we do these day-long equine therapy programs, and those are what we've been doing for about 10 years or 11 years now. And we start off traditionally with yoga in the morning, and then we go from yoga to working with horses.  Of course we have food in there and then we have some process groups around it; so it's like a real therapeutic day. So we do the day long things.  

Sally Broder:    00:01:53    And then the other thing that we do, that we came out here to Kentucky to do, primarily is this program where it was called H S grooming education certification and job placement program. So what we do is we have this structured program where we teach Vets everything they need to know to work with horses professionally. At the same time we're addressing the common things that people have combat, post combat issues, right? So post combat issues would be what everybody thinks of as PTSD, post traumatic stress. But that really is like anxiety, depression, a lot of times substance abuse. So we address all that stuff, but we also teach them this trade and we have three different tracks for it right now. I'm hoping to get some more, but it's, show horses, thoroughbred, race horses, and harness race horses. And so we can teach people how to do that. And then we place them in a job that has housing. And so that what we're trying to do there is address a few different things. We're addressing substance abuse, we're addressing the mental health stuff, suicidality, employment and housing at once. And so that's a long-winded answer.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:03:39    Yeah. So, it seems like you have quite a bit going on with all that. And, like you said, it's addressing a number of different issues that Veterans face. A lot of those types of things are very common. And I think especially with the job placement, the drug training and then placing people in these jobs afterwards, it addresses something that I don't think you'd necessarily, specifically said, but it gives people a sense of purpose.  That's one of those things that transitioning Veterans have an issue with a lot of times is that they identify as a Soldier, as a Marine, as an Airman, a Sailor whatever they happen to be.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:04:31    And then all of a sudden, one day they take the uniform off and now they're no longer that thing anymore. And now they're struggling to figure out who I am, and what am I doing? And so when they struggle with finding a job that is meaningful for them, they just don't really know what it is that they are and what their purpose is.  Being in the military, there's a big purpose; you're serving your country, you're protecting your country and you're fighting in wars or not, you may be doing stuff not in a combat role, but still it's all part of the service to your country. And there's a big sense of purpose there. When you get out, you're struggling a lot of times to find that. And so getting this type of training in this type of employment gives you a little bit more of a sense of purpose than you might've had without that. 

Sally Broder:    00:05:38    You say virtually any MOS feels important?   

Scott DeLuzio:    00:05:45    I think, well, this is going to the kind of little tongue in cheek, but I think they all feel important to themselves like when you're in that role if you're in finance, for example, and you're responsible for handling soldiers pay, you feel important about that because without you doing the job that you're doing, the soldiers aren't getting paid and that's an issue. But then on the other side, as the soldier getting paid, when my pay is screwed up, I think that those people maybe aren't really as good as they may think they are sometimes. And it 's tongue in cheek because there's a whole series of issues that could go into all of that stuff. And many times it's probably not even their fault, that the pay got messed up or anything.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:06:36    So, I think everyone does think that their job is important to some extent. I mean, no matter what you're doing,if you're a cook, you're providing the food that the soldiers who are fighting the wars are relying on to be able to have the energy to go do what they're doing. If you're in supply and logistics, if the weapons and the ammunition and things like that can't get to the battlefield, then there's no way you're going to fight the battle very effectively. So there's a lot of different jobs and they all are important in one way or another. They all fit together in the big overall puzzle.  

Sally Broder:    00:07:22    Yeah. So then you get back stateside after leaving combat, and it's like, now, what am I going to do? And now my wife, I'm being stereotypical. Now, my wife has been making all the money. She's been raising the kids and she's the one that's in charge of the house and I don't have anything. What is my point? That's a breeding ground for depression, right? It's a breeding ground for having a few too many beers every night. Well, I'll just tell you a little personal story. This is the way I got into horses really seriously, and it's on my website too. I used to use drugs at one time, because I was raised in a family that did all that. And I went to work with horses and one example is I got to jog this amazingly beautiful horse in the morning and watch the sun come up.  

Sally Broder:    00:08:37    And this is a world champion horse. And that was one of the things that I, my skill level got to the point where I could sit in a cart and exercise them. And that was part of my job. And I really did have a sense of purpose. I felt like, oh my God, I’m really good at this. And the horses look forward to me coming. And you know, my boss relies on me to make sure that everything's done just right, so that these horses are well taken care of and we can take them to shows and they're going to win so I know that that's something that the Veterans can feel as well. And one of the ways that we got the idea for doing this full-time program is that being in California and doing this since 2010, or I started in 2009, is that I had all these frequent flyers.  

Sally Broder:    00:09:38    I kept having these repeat people. And I'm like, why do you keep coming back? We're doing pretty much the same thing. It is because they liked getting better at it. They liked building the skills. They loved being with the horses and they loved the way they felt when they were with the horses.  I was like, what if we really took it to the next level so they really could get employed. I knew what that was like being employed in the horse business. And you get those things, you get a sense of hope that things are gonna be better tomorrow. You know, a sense of purpose. Like me being here matters to this barn, right. Which is what when you get employed in the horse business, you belong to a barn. You're part of the barn family and this sense of belonging, just like the comradery in the military, which is another thing that they lose when they come back, the barn family, and your routine working with horses does create a camaraderie as well. 

Scott DeLuzio:    00:10:52    I think that you touched on a good point there that the comradery is something that you don't realize that you'll miss until you don't have it. And when people are getting out of the military, they had that comradery for so long however long they were in the military. And they were with a group of people that they relied on, that they trusted in most cases. And they understood, yeah, they spoke the same language. They shared experiences both good and bad. And they were able to laugh and joke and just talk with each other and understand each other and where they're coming from. And then when you get out of the military, I was talking to another Veteran the other day and he said, when he got out of the military, he was hanging out with some of his pre military friends, like people he went to school with and things like that.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:11:49    And he said, it was like talking two completely different languages. And we grew up together. We knew each other. And we just weren't the same people anymore. And he said, he realized that he had changed through his experience in the military. And so he was venturing to work on a way to bridge that gap between the civilian and military understanding.  People do get that comradery in the military, but then they lose it and then they're there wanting it, but they don't know where to find it. And so this is good that it's almost like a family like you're talking about where you are responsible for things, people relying on you to take care of certain things.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:12:45    And at the end of the day, the horses are relying on you too, because if they're not being taken care of, that's how they eat and how they exercise. And all that stuff is they're relying on that too. And a lot of Veterans probably like animals better than most people. So that's another way to encourage that sense of camaraderie, even if it's a sense of purpose and belonging with a horse that they now have that purpose and belonging.  

Sally Broder:    00:13:19    Part of it, yeah.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:13:21    Yeah. So you talked about some of the situations that this type of therapy benefits, between posttraumatic stress and substance abuse. And at the end of the day, homelessness too, if you're providing housing there's a lot of things like that, but what are the other mental health conditions that this equine assisted therapy works well for? Is it a one size fits all kind of thing, or is it something that is specifically geared towards certain types of conditions?  

Sally Broder:    00:14:03    Well, okay. Going back to what most people think of when you think of PTSD, or when you think of post combat; there are a lot of different things that go along with it. Another one is ADHD. So what happens when people have post-traumatic stress, think about the hyper-vigilance that goes along with it, hypervigilance. So always having to watch your back all the time; ADHD parallels that also. Well, it's this thing of not being able to fully relax into the moment and it's drilled into you when you're trained. In the military, you have to be watching everything at once. You have to have this high sensory perception about your surroundings.  That translates in a positive way with animals and with horses. And I'll tell you why, since horses are prey animals, they're the same way. They're always like that, because they have to be on high alert. So let's say that I have a Veteran that is with a horse, and now this Veteran takes ownership of this horse, so to speak. Now he's the one that is aware of everything going on. And so now that horse can relax.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:15:41    And feels comfortable around that person.  

Sally Broder:    00:15:43    Yeah. And so that horse can relax knowing that they've got a leader.. And so one of the things that we talk about is being a good leader to your horse, right. And we also talk about being a good leader to the horse inside of you. And that might sound a little corny, but it's like how do you want to treat yourself? How do you want to treat the horse inside of you? Well, so we're teaching them to be consistent, making them feel safe, consistent, gentleness, but also firmness. You know, there's all these little subtleties, and we're also having them really get in touch with their own body and their own body language and learning about horses’ body language. So all those things are kind of going into it partially for safety, partially for therapeutic reasons for them to learn how to relax themselves; because all the things really related to post combat have to do with stress, high stress all those things that you can think of, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, all that stuff relates from this high stress.  

Sally Broder:    00:17:04     What we're trying to do is teach them how to self-regulate, you've probably heard that term before, self regulated.  It's a good psychological term.  Also grief.

Scott DeLuzio:    00:17:28    Yeah. Okay. That makes a lot of sense. And grieving is definitely something that the combat Veterans will, a lot of times, have to experience; unfortunately, through loss of a friend or something in combat or even grieving the loss of that identity that we were talking about before.  That's another reason people don't maybe recognize that as grief, but you're no longer this person that you once were. And so there's a bit of grief there as well. So, let's talk a little bit about the substance abuse and the addictions side of things. When you reached out to me a couple of weeks ago to be on the show, you told me a little bit about what you do.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:18:26    And you mentioned that this type of therapy helps provide Veterans who are in recovery from these addictions with a solid path to staying clean and sober through working with these horses.  What is it about being with the horses, specifically that helps them find that path to staying clean? Like, there's one side of it with just getting clean but then staying that way for the long haul is the more important aspect of it. I mean, obviously baby steps, you have to start off getting there first and then, but then the ultimate goal is staying clean for the long run. So, what is it about the horses that helps with that?  

Sally Broder:    00:19:14     Specifically with our program, because all of us are addiction experts really.  So what we're doing is we're providing a space that is specializing in relapse prevention ourselves.  We have 12 step meetings for them.  We have ongoing support for them. We have   random drug testing providing them with a foundation to have a really good foundation in recovery but also making sure that wherever it is that they get placed, that that's still a priority. So for example I got into recovery and I got my long lasting job way back a long time ago.  If I was out of town at a horse show, because we would sometimes be on the road for 12 days at a time going to horse shows, in my downtime, I could look up a horse show.  

Sally Broder:    00:20:31    I mean, not a horse show, I could look up a 12 step meeting. So we had a horse show in Seattle. I could find a local meeting there. And so what we do is we teach people the tools for the long haul, how you're going to maintain it and even right here in Kentucky at the world championship horse show, they have a Bill W room at the world championship show and what that is, is a place where they have ongoing 12 step meetings during the world championship horse show, because they know that substance abuse is a problem, right?  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:21:15    Yeah, sure. No, that makes sense.  I didn't realize that that was something that is so widespread and throughout that community where they would have a dedicated area for that at a show, but that's good that they do, and that they've recognized this as a legitimate way of coping and dealing with this type of stuff. That’s interesting.  

Sally Broder:    00:21:42    And then another way is, let's say I place someone in a barn, with a particular trainer. At the onboarding, we're telling them everything about this person and this person is completely upfront about whatever they deal with. Let's say the person  hyperventilates occasionally, or has panic attacks. Talking about that stuff upfront so that the trainer can know how to help them, know how to help them to be the best employee. And the same with substance abuse, I'm sober, I'm in recovery and I'm going to stay that way, but I want to let you know that that's something that I want to maintain. So if you can help me have an hour to go to a meeting on the road, that would be helpful instead of the boss being like, okay, why are you disappearing?  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:22:48    Right. Yeah. There's more to it than just the disappearing act that might be on the surface; there's something behind that. And so these individual sessions that you do are great and they're probably very beneficial, like you were saying, like when you first started this, you were getting a lot of,you call it, frequent flyers that were coming through. Ultimately the goal is to change lives and work on the problems that people are having for the long haul, which is why I wanted to talk about that especially with regards to substance abuse and that type of stuff, because I think a lot of times it's the environment that people are in that enables the use of whether it's drugs or alcohol or whatever, it sort of encourages it.

Scott DeLuzio:    00:23:47    Yeah. The friends that you're hanging out with are always drinking; well, then you're going to always drink because that's just what you're doing. You know?  I actually heard this a while ago that there were obvious drug problems with the soldiers who were in Vietnam.  There were all sorts of different drugs that they were exposed to over there in Vietnam, and they were using these drugs.  A lot of the medical professionals back then said that, once you're hooked on some of these drugs, you're hooked. And it's going to be very hard for you to get off of them.  But what they were finding is when a lot of the soldiers were coming back to their hometowns where they didn't have friends or other people who were readily doing these types of drugs, they found that they were kicking the habit much easier than they thought that they would have.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:24:45     A lot of times it's just that change of environment that sometimes people need, and it seems like going to these different horse shows and different places where they're working with the horses is definitely a change of environment. And if it's a drug-free environment where that's not something that people do, they don't hang out and do drugs or drink all the time and things like that, then they're going to be less likely to fall back into those old habits, you know?  

Sally Broder:    00:25:23    Absolutely. Plus they're working their butt off.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:25:27    And they're probably just too tired to do anything else, you know? So, what's the process look like? Let's say there's a Veteran who is like, this sounds like something that would be good for me.  I want to reach out and I want to find out more about this. I want to get involved. What does the process look like from the time that they're hearing this message right now on the podcast to the time that they reach out to you and throughout the process, what does that look like?  

Sally Broder:    00:26:01     Well, they can email [email protected], and we're switching everything over to.org, but for now it's not.com or they can call me at my number (650) 776-4313.  We can talk about whether they need housing, so we will have housing available.  That'll be by let's say mid August is when it's looking like it will be ready.  If they have absolutely no experience with horses, it's probably going to be three months of them living onsite here and getting trained. And so the way that it looks once they're here is, we start in the morning about eight o'clock and they're going to be doing this instruction and working at least till noon.  Then if they wanted to have an actual job we would encourage them to have a job in the afternoon if they needed to make money, if they don't need to do that, then we'll be giving them other stuff that they can learn about like other farm things, stable things.  

Sally Broder:    00:27:33    Then what we do is we take them to horse shows and we take them to the track.  We actually have them work in these environments.  We have show horses that we take to shows so they can actually be doing this stuff and when they reach a point where they're good enough, where we feel like they're good enough to venture out, we encourage them to do an internship. And we have barns here in Kentucky where they can do an internship where they work for another trainer to get specialized. And every single trainer does things differently, like in any business, they all have their role, their little special ways of doing things. That can finish off their education. And if that trainer wants to hire them, they can negotiate and hire them with our help of course, to make sure that they're not being taken advantage of. Let's say that we place them in a job and it's not a good fit for them. And they're like, I hate it here then we'll get him something else. So we make sure that we follow along with them until they're completely situated and really forever, you know? 

Scott DeLuzio:    00:29:01    Well, that's good that there's someone who has their back and is looking out for them because if this is a new world to them, they don't know necessarily whether or not they're getting taken advantage of, or whatever, like you're saying. So you're more familiar and your people are more familiar with that. And so they should be able to help out with that. So that makes sense. Now, this isn't something that is just specifically for Veterans; there's all sorts of people who can benefit from this type of thing. But I want to talk about the families of the service members and Veterans, as well as the potential for seeing some benefit from this now.  There's obviously issues with Veterans coming out of combat, post traumatic stress and all that kind of stuff too.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:29:54    But that type of stuff takes its toll on the families too, on the spouses and the children and all that type of stuff too. So what does that look like for the families and what type of issues that the family members are dealing with when they come through this, what are some of the things that basically it's the ideal family member that might be coming through in terms of what they're dealing with and what they're going through that can help them out?  

Sally Broder:    00:30:30    Well, let's imagine that we're talking about having transition problems. They have high anxiety, maybe they're drinking too much, they're taking it out on the family. They're not employed, they're bummed about that.  Getting them into this program is going to make them feel a whole lot better at the end of every day, and they're going to come home and they're going to want to talk about it, they're going to be excited about it.  They're going to be a lot more enjoyable to be around.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:31:07    Okay. Yeah, that does make sense too. Are there opportunities for example, like the spouses to come through your program as well?  They're probably dealing with some issues as well. I think that's maybe what I was getting at there.  

Sally Broder:    00:31:27    Oh, let's say that you had a spouse of the Veteran that wanted to come out and experience the horse stuff and their Veteran was going through the grooming program.  We have day-long things like this weekend, tomorrow we have an event for female Veterans, but it's also for spouses too. They could come out and experience the one day program and get self care from that.  It's like a family out here. So if someone's in our program, the family can come out and get to be around the horses, too. We love that.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:32:16    And I think that that's a good point there because it sort of gives a shared experience with their loved one, their spouse, or their family member, because you've been apart for so long and you've missed out on a lot of those shared experiences. And so now if you can do this thing maybe not necessarily working right together, but you have something in common now that you can bring it home and talk about it as opposed to the husband who goes off and is doing this all day and the wife is still back at home and everything. And that might cause some other stresses too,in the family. But if they can come together and they can do this type of thing, and that they have that shared experience, then that could also be beneficial, I would imagine.   

Sally Broder:    00:33:13    We had one couple come out to one of our Veterans days as their date night, except a few times actually that's happened a few times, but here in Kentucky, the very first Vet event we did, there was a couple that came in. That was their purpose for it; that was their date day. 

Scott DeLuzio:    00:33:36    Now I know a lot of times when people think about horses, I think that they're expensive and they're very costly. So, what is this going to cost me? That is one of those things that's probably floating around in someone's head if they're listening to this, so what are the costs involved? And I know you have some working with Veterans, you deal with that question probably quite a bit. So, what does that look like for a Veteran who's looking to come through?

Sally Broder:  It's free, it's free!

Scott DeLuzio:  I knew that answer but I wanted it to come from you.  That's what I want people to take away from this is that this is something that's being offered for free.  Take that and realize that, there's really no risk here. It's not like you have to go spend a thousand dollars on any of this stuff, or you don't have to spend anything. It's free, just get yourself there.  

Sally Broder:    00:34:38     Maybe I'll add something else is that, we certify them, right? So they get to take away beginning, intermediate, advanced, or trainer level certification from this group certification. That's good across the country, right. If they want to come get trained in Kentucky and work in California, they can. 

Scott DeLuzio:    00:35:06    So that's great too, because that gives them the opportunity. They don't have to relocate to Kentucky in order to find a job or anything, they can come out for whatever the time period is to learn what they need to do and get certified. And then they can take it back home and work closer to their loved ones. And the people that they want to be around and everything. 

Sally Broder:    00:35:33    Yeah. Provided there's a horse industry where they are. 

Scott DeLuzio:    00:35:38    Exactly. Yes. If you're in New York city, it's probably going to be a little bit harder to find a job than it would be in Kansas or somewhere else that's probably a little bit more open like that.  

Sally Broder:    00:35:50    Upstate New York, they have a lot.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:35:53    I'm sure they do. But in the city, that's probably going to be a problem. But anyways, this has been really great information. If someone who's listening to this,  can take away a little bit of information, like one major thing, I would like to ask, who is the ideal candidate for coming through your program? So that way, if someone who's listening to this can keep that in the back of their mind and to refer this to somebody, if they know of them now, or six months down the road, they learn of somebody who might be fitting this profile, if you will what does that ideal person look like? Who will get the most benefit out of this?  

Sally Broder:    00:36:46    Okay. So for our day long, Veteran events, they can be in virtually any condition. We even have non ambulatory Vets that come out and do our stuff for the day,  as far as for the certification and job placement program, they'll have to be ambulatory. They will want to be able to be physically able enough to lift stuff so they're going to be more able-bodied, but that doesn't mean they can't have prosthetics, right. That's absolutely fine.  Mental health stuff is fine.  I think probably the only mental health thing that we're not really equipped to deal with would be psychosis, but I know I'm getting a little psychological there. Just about anybody is okay.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:37:55    Yeah. So, if it looks like from all the other stuff that we talked about today, if it seems like there's somebody who is in your life, for the listeners, if there's somebody in your life who could benefit from this, definitely reach out to them. Recommend, Hey there's this program out there, it's free.  There's really no risk to it other than a little bit of time outside of that and if you're struggling, it seems like you should give it a try.  It doesn't really seem like there's any downside to it. So, it's been a pleasure speaking with you today, learning about all the things that you do, how you're helping out Veterans and their families. Where can people go to  get in touch with you and find out more about Horse Sensing and all the different therapies and programs that you offer?  

Sally Broder:    00:38:54    They can go to HorseSensing.com. So it's all one word.  Our Facebook page is at HorseSensing and we update really often about all the things that we're doing.  And they can call and ask too.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:39:20    Absolutely. So I will have links to all of this in the show notes for the show, to your social media, to your website and the phone number and everything like that. I'll try to put all that in the show notes. So anyone who's looking to get in touch to check it out, to learn more about horse therapy, I encourage you to go check it out. And really explore this as an option, because it could very well be very beneficial to you, especially if you've tried other things, you went to the VA and other places like that, that didn't seem to quite resonate with you. Don't throw in the towel and give up hope, like all hope is lost here. There are other options. And that's why I have people on the show, like Sally today, to talk about the different options that are available so that there is still hope for you, even if you've tried other things. So, again thank you for sharing all this information and your time today. I really do appreciate it.  

Sally Broder:    00:40:20    Thank you so much for letting me be on your show. I appreciate it.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:40:25    Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcast. If you want to check out more episodes or learn more about the show, you can visit our website DriveOnPodcasts.com. We're also on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube at DriveOnPodcast.

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