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Veteran Says Equine Therapy Saved Her Life

victoriaortizjpg 21 Dec 2016

A few miles north of town, just past a red gate, is a barn that has become a saving grace for female veterans and military wives.

In August, the Crossroads Area Veterans Center invested in a new equine therapy program at Grace Ranch.

In the past several months, the program has helped area women get through challenges in their lives, including transitioning to civilian life.

And even on a cold, rainy day the lesson goes on.

In the barn, U.S. Army veteran Trecia Rodgers prepares for the class to start.

The 49-year-old Victoria woman credits this kind of therapy with helping her turn her life around after she returned home two years ago from Afghanistan.

"Equine therapy saved my life," she said. "That's how I got into it."

At the time, she was dealing with emotional and physical injuries and said she was extremely angry.

She had nightmares, which made her lose a lot of sleep.

"I began wondering day to day whether it was worth living," she said. "I really went down a dark hole."

Rodgers couldn't remember her grandchildren's names or walk without holding on to somebody.

"A friend of mine invited me out to work with her horses because all of the normal, traditional therapies were not working," she said.

"Within a couple of months, I was already back to doing most of my normal daily activities, which was incredible for me," she said.

Rodgers found that with the help of her horse, Monte, she could open up and start the healing process.

Rodgers had grown up around horses and decided to become a certified instructor and try to help others.

She said when a person comes to a lesson angry, a horse will pick up on those feelings.

"They have to learn how to curb that anger or deal with that anger in order to communicate with that horse properly and be able to enjoy that ride," she said.

After some time, they learn how to communicate with their family, co-workers or in social situations.

"They learn how to just kind of let go of that anger and enjoy the moment," she said.

This past summer, Rodgers approached Grace Ranch owner Sandy Sciba to see whether they could start a veterans' equine therapy program.

Sciba was just about to slow down operations in the barn and focus on family.

The ranch started about 20 years ago with 10 horses, and it now has 55.

They talked the idea over for weeks, before making the commitment.

"It was something I hadn't done," Sciba said.

But equine therapy was something she could support. She had seen for years the benefits of working with horses, and her husband is also a military veteran.

"I thought it was a great idea, but we both had to figure out how to do that and still be grandmothers," she said.

Sciba said since the program began, she's noticed that not all of the participants were ready for therapy.

"You have to dig deep to get along with the horse and see that it's not all fun and games," she said.

Learning to ride is not as romantic as one might think.

"It takes work, and you've got to invest," she said.

But those who stayed in the program have grown.

"I think a horse will help anybody, but we've got to want to be helped," she said. "You've got to make yourself vulnerable."

Marine Corps veteran Victoria Ortiz said the class has been a good place for her to de-stress.

She finished her military service in June and started the class in October.

"It gave me people to lean on," she said. "People that had been there done that."

For Nicki Lowry, starting equine therapy meant being able to focus on herself.

The Victoria mother of four had long put her own needs aside as she balanced home life with being a caregiver to her husband.

Her husband, Nick Lowry, retired from the U.S. Navy in 2007 with a traumatic brain injury.

She was tasked with keeping everything together.

The couple started the Christian Warriors Retreat and a ministry for veterans, which pulled her further away from taking care of herself.

"I lost who I was," Nicki Lowry said. "He got healed and then it was like, 'Who am I?'"

This year has been especially challenging as her father underwent two heart surgeries.

For several weeks, she would drive from the hospital in Houston to Grace Ranch for her lesson and then back to the hospital.

She said her horse, Charlie, helped her get through her dad's surgeries.

That trust and connection was built over time.

"Charlie has humbled me," she said in a YouTube testimonial. "It really has changed my outlook on things. It's saved my life."

Lowry said she took her children out to the barn to see Charlie and now they want to take classes.

But she worries what will happen if funding for the program runs out.

One of the biggest challenges is that it costs a lot of money to run a barn.

"We are not going to skimp on the care of our horses," Sciba said.

An initial $5,000 grant from the Texas Veterans Commission helped get the program started.

Lowry's nonprofit started fundraising and the ranch donated rides when the funds ran out in November.

More grant funds have since been approved for the program and the local veterans center is working to continue the therapeutic services for female veterans and military wives.

The program costs about $200 a month per rider.

There are about seven women participating in the Veterans Unleashed and Warrior Wives program.

Lowry says she wants to raise awareness about how the program is helping women in the community.

"I leave here just feeling refreshed and free and whole," she said. ___

This article is written by Laura Garcia from Victoria Advocate, Texas and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network.

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