Equine therapy reaches victims and veterans – Coastal Observer


Equine therapy reaches victims and veterans

Sue McKinney, president and founder of Barnabas Horse Foundation, with Pearl.

A Murrells Inlet-based nonprofit is using horses as therapy for victims of crime and veterans.

The reaction of a horse when spooked – fight, flight or freeze – is similar to trauma victims, or combat veterans, when they get triggered.

“That comes from an involuntary part of the brain, down in the brain stem. That is the brain saying ‘I have to survive so this is going to happen,’” said Sue McKinney, president and founder of Barnabas Horse Foundation.

The first time Pete Milosky, an Air Force veteran, visited Barnabas, a horse named Pete walked up to where he was standing.

“From that time on we became big time friends,” Milosky said. “He relaxes me. I come up [and] he gives me a hug or he rubs on me. It makes me relax more. It makes me forget about the problems that we have.”

Milosky started out as a member of the veterans therapy program. Now he volunteers three days a week. During therapy, each veteran works individually with a horse. Then they gather for a group session.

“[We] sit together and we talk about the joyful things we have around us,” Milosky said. “If we have a problem we all get together and try to help each other.”

McKinney started Barnabas in 2011. 

Six years ago she began moving the operations to a property on New River Drive that used to be part of the Wachesaw Equestrian Center.

McKinney and her staff use horses to aid neuroplasticity, which is the rewiring of the brain of a person who has experienced trauma.

“The science has caught up – or is catching up – to what us horse people have known all along: horses are good for us,” McKinney said.

Jenn Faro, Barnabas’ community outreach coordinator, said neuroplasticity can help a child who has been abused or witnessed domestic violence and is now struggling in school.

“Why are they not doing well? Because they’re living in their brain stem,” Faro said. “You cannot learn or problem solve unless you feel safe. You won’t feel safe unless that lower region of the brain feels safe.”

Barnabas staff members are not licensed therapists, they are certified life coaches and victims services providers.

The nonprofit is the only alternative therapy program in the state that has its employees’ salaries paid for by a victims advocacy grant from the state Attorney General’s Office.

Tiffany Mansy, Barnabas’ volunteer coordinator, said sometimes people arrive “wound up” and something as simple as grooming a horse can be soothing.

“The consistent, rhythmic patterns gets any PTSD, any trauma kind of regulated,” she added. “They just made it here and they can breathe and then things start to calm down. By the end of it, when we’re in group, everyone just [exhales].”

Bill Strydesky, a Navy veteran, was so inspired by Barnabas’ work after meeting McKinney, he pays for the care and feeding of Red Belle, one of the therapy horses. 

“I’ve been coming here for awhile and this place is extremely calming, very calming to vets and to people who work here,” Strydesky said.

McKinney appreciates the sponsors of the 26 therapy horses, especially since the price of hay and feed has risen more than 30 percent in the last few years.

“We’re very fortunate to have such a supportive community,” she said. “We’re very blessed that that helps to meet the basic needs.”

Barnabas also recently got a $2,500 donation from the GIFT (Giving It Forward Together) Foundation.

“There’s a lot of veterans that are in need and this is a huge veteran community,” said Scott Giles, a GIFT board member.

A larger donation will be coming in the spring when Barnabas becomes the largest beneficiary of GIFT’s golf tournament fundraiser.

“We’re just getting started and we know that tying in with Barnabas after talking with them, you can’t get a better collaborative partner,” Giles said. “It will grow. There’s no doubt it will grow.”

Barnabas is hosting an all-day female veterans retreat on Sept. 30.

For more information go to barnabashorse.org.



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