OLIVE BRANCH, MS (WMC) - The healing journey from the hidden wounds of war can take a lifetime, but the dirt and horsehair at Oak View Stables is providing a critical step in that healing process for some veterans.
"Animals have a healing power. They don't judge. They listen. They're gentle giants," said Jeremiah Shields, Army veteran.
Shields spent 12 years in the Army and deployed to Iraq before sustaining injuries in the war that caused him to be forced out of the military.
Trey Lawson, Oak View Stables professional equestrian trainer, said he came up with the idea of a Horse Therapy program at the stables in order to give back to veterans.
"The veterans program started in December 2015. We started seeing veterans almost immediately," Lawson said.
The program is a partnership with the VA, and the veterans are chosen from the VA to participate in the program after the veteran expresses interest in attending. Everything is optional at the program and no veteran is made to do anything he or she is not comfortable doing.
The veterans come to the stables two days a week for a couple hours. During the sessions, they are taught a variety of everything from how to groom and handle horses to how to ride them.
"Anything that helps them interact with the horse," Lawson said. "Horses have their own language. They're constantly communicating through body language. You just have to communicate in another language. I learned to speak horse instead of Spanish when I was a child."
Memphian Cornelius Davis, 26, spent four years in the Marines and saw a horse for the first time when he arrived at Oak View Stables.
"I've never had any hands-on experience with horses before, just only what I seen on TV," Davis said. "It surprised me that they would be as gentle as they would be."
Davis said he heard other veterans were going to see and ride horses and he wanted to go.
"I took the opportunity to see something new," Davis said. He said he would definitely be back.
Lawson said the stables currently has three regular horses dedicated to the program, and provides each veteran attending the sessions with one-on-one time with a horse. They are seeking to grow the program and reach out to more veterans. The stables are looking to partner with individuals and businesses in order to provide additional healing opportunities for those who have served this country.
If you would like to learn more about the program, sponsor a horse, or get involved by supporting the program, click here.