When you find mind-like people, you can spend all night talking about nerdy stuff- folks call it “nerding out”. When I work with Alex Varn, leading troop psychologist of the German Bundeswehr, and his team, this happens frequently (by the way, also happens to horse and education people all the time).
During our work in Colorado at the Airforce Academy, we took the O.k. Corral training by Greg Kirsten together, and Alex joined in for Horse Boy 1 and 2, seeing the benefits for individual soldiers with PTSD and other neurological challenges, but also in reconnecting and supporting military families.
Since then, we have had multiple occasions...
to work together and observe each other’s approaches and expertise. When Alex and his team decided to join an ATHENA training here in Wiesbaden, I was a little nervous. What I did not want was them to think that we are simply selling a product or forcing an idea in their direction that should be the one and only- what our ultimate goal is, is to get the knowledge out and to provide extra tools for folks to use to support and help other people in their development, growth, and healing.
Horse therapy and horse therapeutic interventions are not easily accessible for people in need. In this case, for us, we were looking at programs we could offer to support our military families and by that, we mean the German and the US military in collaboration. As previously mentioned Equine-Assisted-Intervention-Learning-Therapy the German Bundeswehr is in the process of a significant size longitudinal study to investigate the effectiveness of equine-assisted interventions. But at this point, it is challenging for people to receive alternative therapy supporting equine-assisted interventions in whatever form and shape that may be available.
Remount Foundation at the Air Force Academy has waiting lists, and some military folks who have served but do not have access to bases anymore do not even have access. Our wheels have been turning on how to best serve people.
As a team, we realized that we need as many tools as possible and the best knowledge of the effectiveness of the tools we can offer. ATHENA became a big discussion point as such a valuable tool.
In a 2019 pilot at a PATH Intl Premier Accredited Center, 4 Veterans worked with 2 equine partners using the ATHENA horse training system during 8 weekly lessons. Both equines showed a decrease in resistance and increase in relaxation during long lining, lunging, and in-hand work. Volunteers reported both equines showed improved ground manners throughout the week between lessons.
Veterans reported an improvement in horsemanship skills, communication, self-efficacy, and mindfulness. Pre and post-lesson self-reports noted a decrease in anxiety (-16%), an increase in mood (13%), and no significant increase in pain (-1%). (https://ntls.co)
The team took a two-day ATHENA course to allow these tools to be available when needed. The sincere interest and open-mindedness made the training a full success and a collaborative process that brought many creative ideas on how this can be used to best support people in need. We now have locations that offer work experience and horsemanship work for “Kameraden” of the German military and would eventually like to implement a similar chance for folks in the US. Helping to heal- for example, injured or broken horses can have a huge impact on a person's self-worth and efficacy- feeling needed, wanted, and healing in the process.
In addition, the research team extended an invitation to a US military family in need to join a German military retreat for healing and resilience building. It is meant as a pilot trial for further collaboration to build relations and share resources. The retreat is planned for August 2021 where various equine interventions are offered and Rupert Isaacson will introduce ATHENA and Horse Boy as available programs planning a creative fun playdate for people to join.
Opportunities are endless! And even though, not always easy, the fruits of the innovative and late evening chats spark creative ideas that may lead to benefits for all the families and individuals we serve. A huge thank you to Alex, Elli, Jens, and Christian for being absolutely awesome and visionary!