SWFL veterans receive therapy through Naples horse program

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Army Veteran Rick Sjolander with horse “Buddy” at the Naples Therapeutic Riding Center. (WINK News)

They may not be your typical counselors, but these animals are helping veterans find relief from PTSD and anxiety.

The Naples Barn is helping people overcome their obstacles and get in the saddle.

Step by step, Army Veteran Rick Sjolander is taking the reigns on his anxiety by spending time with horses like Buddy.

“I mean, they’re the perfect counselor,” Sjolander said. “If you think about it, they don’t tell you anything, they don’t judge you, you can talk to them and say anything you want.”

He and other veterans come to the Naples Therapeutic Riding Center every month to find that relief and comradery.

“You get to interact with the horses and you get to interact with other vets and learn something,” Sjolander said.

“What I hear and what I see from our veterans is they’re not being judged; they just get to relax and they’re having a good time,” said Executive Director Missy Lamont.

She loves pairing horses at the center with people who need help overcoming PTSD, grief, addiction and other obstacles.

“We have 14 amazing therapy horses for people looking for help with physical limitations and emotional and social limitations,” Lamont said.

As lead instructor, Lea Haven helps participants learn to form a trust and bond with these animals.

“What is rewarding about this program is I see a lot of people come out of their shell,” she said. “Working with such a huge animal is empowering for people, to lead them around the arena, form a bond.”

“We brush ’em, curry ’em, walk them through a course and just enjoy time with them,” Sjolander said.

“Helping them be able to build up their confidence,” Lamont said, and empowering people to trot toward being a healthier version of themselves.

The riding center requires a doctor’s note, not a charge, for participants.

If you are interested in checking out the center for yourself, they will be holding a Kentucky Derby Party on May 2 at 4:30 p.m. where you can enjoy hors d’oeuvres, Mint Juleps and bid on horses. There will also be contests and prizes.

For more information on the party, click here.

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