Until stumbling upon it, Newhall resident and Army veteran Mike Salinas didn’t know of Blue Star Ranch’s existence.
The nonprofit, which offers equine-assisted therapy for veterans suffering from PTSD, has since changed Salinas’ life.
“I was lucky I found this place,” Salinas said. “Coming here made me change my outlook on life for sure.”
Blue Star’s therapy animals, which include horses, as well as a mini horse and mini donkey, help veterans to overcome their barriers through a free, 10-week program.
During a typical session, veterans will work through a series of exercises, which include setting up props in the arena to represent their world, then bringing the horse “into their world” by walking through the props.
“It’s all ground work, and in a way, that brings their issues to the surface,” Assistant Director Sandra DeFrain said.
With the help of the horse, an equine specialist and therapist, veterans are able to identify the barriers in their lives, symbolized by the props, and they become tangible enough to be addressed.
“At first when I came here, I had no experience with horses at all, and the therapy kind of brought me out of my shell,” Salinas said. “I didn’t know what to expect, but it was easy to open up with them … (and) I was just so happy to have an outdoor therapy.”
Each session builds upon the last, allowing the veteran to build a relationship with the horse.
For Salinas, who thinks of the horse as a partner through the session, the relationship he built with Jack, his therapy horse, quickly grew.
“He made me realize things about myself, and think outside the box,” Salinas said, adding that he even found himself relating to the horse, as they both had arthritis.
“The great thing about Mike is that he’s open to the process,” added Katie Ryan, an Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association certified therapist.
The horses are able to sense people’s emotions and react accordingly, allowing them to form a deeper connection and bringing up emotions they didn’t even know they had bottled up inside, Salinas said.
“As a result, they build a relationship of mutual trust with the horse,” Ryan said, adding that the relationship allows them to gain confidence in other settings, such as crowded stores.
Salinas has since learned to focus on the small victories, rather than the negatives.
For Ryan, working with Blue Star not only allows her to get her fix of horses, but also allows her to help veterans like Salinas in a way she hasn’t seen before.
“It’s the one thing that I’ve seen that’s really effective for them,” she said of the equine therapy.
And, the horses affect everyone, not just the veterans, with DeFrain admitting she, too, has seen a change in herself since working with Blue Star.
“Even with me, the healing these horses bring to me, just grooming them and being here, is amazing,” DeFrain said.
Salinas is among approximately 50 veterans who have graduated from Blue Star’s program, an accomplishment he doesn’t take lightly, and since then, he’s taken on a full-time position at Blue Star as barn boss.
“I feel like I have a purpose,” he said. “They took care of me, so now I get to take care of them.”
Now, his goal is to help other veterans learn about what Blue Star has to offer.
“I want other veterans to know that this is a good place to go because a lot of us get so defeated in trying to find therapy that we give up,” Salinas said.
Blue Star currently has room for two more veterans and their families to join the program free of charge.
Blue Star Ranch is located at 20827 Placerita Canyon Road in Newhall. For more information, visit bluestarranch.org or call 661-312-6184.