One Step Closer Equine Therapy for Veterans Awarded Parelli Foundation Grant
by Andrew A. Turnbull
Out west, the Parelli Foundation continues its mission to help create a better world for horses and humans through natural horsemanship education with a Heroes and Horsemanship Initiative grant to the Veterans Equine Assisted Therapy Program at One Step Closer Therapeutic Riding in Morgan Hill, CA in partnership with 5-star Licensed Parelli Instructor, David Lichman.
“One Step Closer provides adaptive horseback riding and Equine Assisted Therapy to children and adults with special needs and to military veterans,” said Mark Keirstead, President of One Step Closer, which is a Premier Accredited Member of the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, International (PATH) and a 501(c)3 non-profit organization serving the county of Santa Clara, California. “Our programs help achieve goals for physical, emotional, cognitive, and social development. For our Veteran’s program, One Step Closer’s goal is to help those who served our country to be more independent and successful outside the arena.”
The One Step Closer Veterans Program Equine Assisted Therapy began in 2013 in partnership with the Veterans Administration (V.A.) Palo Alto Health Care System and serves about 250 veterans each year.
The financial grant from Parelli Foundation will support natural horsemanship training for additional One Step Closer volunteers by David Lichman. In partnership with Parelli Foundation, Lichman will supplement the grant by donating additional instruction. About twenty of the fifty current volunteers have natural horsemanship training and increasing this number will benefit not only the volunteers themselves, but also the horses, clients, and staff at One Step Closer. Sharing an understanding of natural horsemanship creates and increases communication between all involved in these vitally important therapeutic programs.
“Natural horsemanship is woven throughout the teaching curriculum and through these sessions,” said One Step Closer Program Director Landa Keirstead. “Our Veterans learn more about themselves, and they learn what is real and true because horses do not lie. Some veterans report having the time of their lives with horses!”
Landa said her decade-and-a-half of studying natural horsemanship gave her the confidence to leave a 30-year career in the medical field to earn her certification with PATH as a Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor. She is also certified by PATH as a Mentor Instructor and helps prepare new instructors to teach adaptive riding.
“We designed our Veterans program to heal the physical and emotional wounds of war,” said Landa Keirstead. “Current enrollees include both men and women who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Desert Storm, Vietnam, and other conflicts, and have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental health issues. Many of these veterans have struggled with sobriety, unemployment, loneliness, homelessness, incarceration, and some have attempted suicide,” reported Landa.
“It is a non-judgemental atmosphere in which you are never made to feel wrong,” expressed a Desert Storm veteran in describing the program. In expressing his appreciation for the lessons in communication, patience, trust, mindfulness, respect, and boundaries that he learned at One Step Closer, the U.S. Army vet added, “Landa and her horses teach you about mutual respect in the form of building a caring leader and partner relationship. These are lessons that many veterans in mental health programs have not experienced in a positive manner in years.”
In serving over a thousand veterans in partnership with One Step Closer since 2013, the V.A. has observed positive changes in veterans that have not appeared through any other form of therapy. Some veterans even become volunteers at One Step Closer and assist fellow veterans who are new to the program or who need additional assistance such as paraplegic vets.
“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.”
At One Step Closer, veterans receive services free of charge. One Step Closer receives no funds from the V.A., and all operating expenses are covered through private donations and grants.
“The veterans in our program continue to thrive with three 2-hour sessions every week, available all year long. Up to six veterans attend each 2-hour session. Though riding is part of the experience, most of the teaching focuses on horse behavior and the human-horse relationship,” said OSC President Mark Keirstead.
The Parelli Foundation is proud to offer grants through the Heroes and Horsemanship Initiative and to partner with David Lichman in supporting One Step Closer Therapeutic Riding.