Waypoint Ranch in Carrollton, Georgia was founded as a nonprofit organization to provide a place where veteran families can find effective, evidence-based treatments combined with holistic alternative therapies on a working ranch. Having experienced first-hand the toll military service takes on a family, Founders Ray and Stephanie Cirasa are dedicated to supporting veteran families through the challenges associated with recovery from service-related injuries. Over the past 16 years this program has rehabbed more than 50 horses and supported over 500 individuals.
After extensive research, there is arguably no better modality for addressing PTSD than Equine Therapy for those with continued PTSD,” said Retired Colonel Dr. Sean Hollonbeck, MD, MPH, a retired Army aerospace & family medicine physician who is also a Member of the Board of the Directors of the Parelli Foundation. “Globally, short, focused equine-based models with natural horsemanship educational principals are changing lives. Horses are nature’s ultimate prey survivors. They are non-judgmental, want to serve, and can teach immediate tools to veterans and other PTSD survivors.”
One veteran who participated is a former Marine who was discharged from active duty in 2013. Attending a program at Heart of Horse Sense was his first attempt at self-care/healing since his coming home. In his words, “I was able to leave with a new understanding of communication. I keep everything inside as I feel a lot of veterans do. However, with the horse interaction, it showed me that everyone has been through something on some level (including the horses). I discovered the only way through it is, well — through it. The horses as well as the staff gave me the WANT to take that first step in healing and recovery.”
A Licensed 2* Parelli Professional known as “Nancy Natural” hosted a retreat for Special Operations veterans who are on a working journey. “They are self-starters, self-guided, and self-driven at Waypoint Ranch in Carrollton, Ga., where their motto is “Live, Learn, Work, Ride. Your self-carriage is your choice,” said Nancy Slater. “Stephanie Cirasa runs the Peace at Home Project there using her horses. She wanted to see what I was doing in Lake Wales, Fla., using Parelli Natural Horsemanship as a healing tool.”
After funding for equine-assisted counseling ran dry for veterans at S.T.E.P.S. with Horses in Texas, a $2,500 grant from the Parelli Foundation drew them back in July 2019. Licensed professional counselors (or supervised graduate-level interns) and Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.)-certified equine specialists in mental health and learning have since held 18 sessions for four clients.
“Consistency in handling is vital when you have many volunteer hands working with a herd of therapy horses,” Mary said. “The training the volunteers received has made them more effective leaders, teaching them to think like a horse! We have also been fortunate to have Debbie share her talents to teach us all a new and effective way to communicate with our horses.”
As the therapy horses became more interested in their humans, the humans got hooked on horse psychology. “There was one woman with a dressage background who was fairly new to the program,” said Christi. “She was skeptical about Parelli and didn’t see any value in it. Then she got excited—she was the biggest proponent!”
Such enthusiasm is important for team members. They’re tasked with promoting success, independence, and dignity among students.
We have incorporated the Parelli methodology into our volunteer training and horse handling programs with great results. Because we are a therapeutic riding center our horses are handled by many different individuals. We feel the Parelli methods are a wonderful way to insure consistency in handling our horses as well as significantly improve the environment that our horses are required to live in. We have resolved many behavioral issues by improving our volunteers’ and staff’s horsemanship skills.
The boys’ eyes were wide with anticipation as the bags were opened and the Parelli equipment was presented. Two-star Licensed Parelli Professional Debbie Adcock had somehow managed to haul horse blankets, carrot sticks, telescoping poles, and various tack onto several planes, through four airports. After traveling for 2 days, everything had arrived safely. Their smiles were overwhelming.
Inexperienced hands and riders can be very taxing on a horse’s body and mind. The degradation began to manifest inside of Jake. He began to nip the person leading him and refused to move when asked. Now, when Jake sees Lisa, he prances along the fence lines begging for her to come and play, all because he and his human friends have learned the concepts of natural horsemanship.