by Joan Reinbott
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.”
Stephanie is certified by the Equine-Assisted Growth and Learning Association; trained in trauma-focused equine-assisted psychotherapy, rhythmic riding sensory integration riding, and Military Family Support Services; and experienced with trauma recovery therapies. Nancy is also a Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH), International instructor.
Recognizing these credentials and good intentions, the Parelli Foundation gave a $1,500 grant to Waypoint Ranch. Nancy said: “When the Peace at Home Veterans Program received funding from the Parelli Foundation to come to me for training, I immediately wanted to participate. I experience the value of horses’ shamanistic healing as a PATH instructor and a Licensed Parelli Professional, and I knew this would be a great opportunity. I let the Parelli Foundation know I would match their funding with time spent as my way to pay it forward.”
This enabled three veterans and one support person to visit Nancy’s ranch for 3 days of intensive horsemanship instruction. In addition, seven ranch members were able to attend the Parelli Foundation’s Heroes and Horsemanship Gala in Ocala, Fla., in 2019.
“I never dreamed how powerful the Parelli program could be for the vets! In just one session, the air was full of peace, understanding, acceptance, and gratitude. One vet stated, ‘I get it!’ Several days were spent practicing in a quiet arena, with the task of calming, connecting, and asking the horse to respond. The focus no longer was on their own troubles, and not focused on therapy, but on what the horses needed from them in the moment!
“It was awkward at first for the vets to learn to speak Horse, as it is for all people, but the horses were soon understanding and looking to their new leaders, asking questions, moving their feet, coming in, staying close, licking, and chewing. And you could see the horses weren’t the only ones processing!”
Kanzler, Army Special Ops, Ranger, said: “During this week, I learned to drop all my own labels—the PTSD label, the somehow-damaged veteran label—and just focus on the horse and becoming his partner and earning his trust. This was beyond therapy; it’s changed my whole future.”
Veterans worked with a wild mustang, a retired rodeo bronc with fear issues, and a mare who had suffered trauma. “Soon horses and heroes were locked in embrace,” said Nancy. “Words cannot express the feelings that washed over us all!”
She added: “Horses are intuitive and know when people are afraid, angry, upset, unfocused, uncaring, etc. If we want them to do something for us, we need to be kind yet strong. Clear and honest. Present and motivated. Once we learn to speak Horse fluently, we team up with each other, naturally. Veterans and horses know the feeling of being in a tribe. Veterans who have returned from war share something else with horses. It’s called hypervigilance. Horses’ number one concern is safety—when is something going to surprise us? A vet can look a horse in the eye, and the horse will look back with acknowledgment: “You know what I know.’ ”
Nancy encourages other veterans interested in equine-assisted therapy: “To all those who have served, sacrificed, and continue to heal their internal scars, thank you and welcome home! You can be the leaders you were meant to be and take charge of your future by working in the moment. May the tools of Parelli Natural Horsemanship start you, guide you, support you, and carry you on your journey to recovery, naturally.”