Amanda Held, veteran and founder of HOOVES (Healing Of Our Veterans Equine Services) with her Clydesdale Killian in Ottawa Lake, Mich.
OTTAWA LAKE, Mich. — Explaining how working with horses helps military veterans dealing with mental trauma after their service is a difficult task, but a new documentary about a local equine therapy organization will help spread the word.
Amanda Hardy, of Maumee has worked with Healing Of Our Veterans Equine Service, or HOOVES, since October. The 36-year-old and a veteran of the U.S. Air Force after 14 years of service struggled with anxiety and emotional issues. Numerous other treatments didn’t make a dent, but horses changed everything.
“It’s really hard to put into words,” she said. “It’s completely changed my life in the last month or so. I have a sense of peace that I haven’t had in a a lot of years.
“It’s an animal. They can’t lie to you. It’s not fake. They have no ulterior motives, and it makes it different.”
VIDEO: HOOVES helps veterans
Founder Amanda Held hopes an upcoming documentary about HOOVES, called Getting Stable, will help share the organization’s message. The nonprofit operates out of Mrs. Held’s home in Grand Rapids, Ohio, and a boarding stable near Ottawa Lake, Mich.
“The documentary is something I wanted to do for a couple of years,” she said. “What we do is so complex and so difficult to understand, that I wanted to find a way that would respect the participants of the program but also help engage the community.”
Air Force veteran Amanda Hardy, of Maumee, greets a horse at HOOVES (Healing Of Our Veterans Equine Services) in Ottawa Lake, Mich.
Clinton LaForest, of One Stoplight Productions connected with Mrs. Held about two years ago. The Haskins man and his wife own the small production company.
“We’re huge proponents of encouraging the public to invest in and become more aware of mental health,” he said. “We would love for the public to recognize the issues that are involved with mental health, and that mental issues are real and can be treated through several different methods.”
Mr. LaForest began working on Getting Stable about a year ago.The company aims to premiere the documentary at the Maumee Indoor Theater on April 28. He said the film will follow a threefold story line.
“One about HOOVES as a program and it's journey, the second about the veterans that have been helped so far, and finally the third about Amanda herself and her journey running the program,” Mr. LaForest said.
The film is mostly in post-production. Mr. LaForest said he recognized that veterans regained a lost sense of camaraderie by working around other military veterans at HOOVES. The participants understand each other and the various struggles they’re working through.
“A lot of these veterans, they have a sense of brotherhood in the service,” he said. “When they come back, that’s missing. HOOVES has provided a version of that for them.”
Mrs. Held was certified in 2009 through the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association and formed HOOVES in 2011. She has worked with about 250 veterans and family members thus far.
She said working with horses in the program is much more involved than simply finding comfort in petting one of the animals.
“We’re looking at a whole comprehensive psychotherapeutic level where the horses become tools for healing,” she said.
Horses naturally mirror a handler’s emotional state, whether or not a person is trying to hide it. The horse’s behavior reflects the handler’s emotions, providing the opportunity to recognize the problem and work to correct it. For example, a horse may simply plant its feet and refuse to move “until you get right with yourself,” Mrs. Held said.
VIDEO: Trailer for “Getting Stable”
Participants work the horses through various exercises. Mrs. Held helps veterans notice the horse’s behavior, interpret its meaning and relationship to their own lives, and work through the problem.
“As they’re helping the horse, they’re coming up with answers on what they need to do for themselves,” Mrs. Held said.
She first experienced the benefit of equine work after she adopted and set about training her first wild mustang. A veteran of the U.S. Air Force now serving in the 122nd Fighter Wing of the Air National Guard out of Fort Wayne, Mrs. Held previously struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“What I found was that as I started training this wild horse, I started to gain control over my emotions and build up my relationships, build up my self worth,” Mrs. Held said. “I found immense healing and have completely overcome PTSD as a result of the work I did with horses.”
Mrs. Held said filming the documentary has been an “incredible experience” that has helped her grow and learn to better convey her message about HOOVES and what it can do. She hopes the documentary is shown nationally.
“This is going to be the definitive piece of bringing my message to the veterans and the community,” she said.
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