Mike Salinas, a U.S. Army veteran, had felt his options were limited when he was looking for treatments for his post-traumatic stress disorder.
The treatment plans were linear, and not suitable for customizing to meet each person’s needs.
Salinas explored his options, seeking one that would allow him to be outdoors, and found Blue Star Ranch.
“When I found Blue Star Ranch all sessions were outside,” said Salinas. “You are interacting with the horse and therapist. The interaction with the horses and props brings up all sorts of different emotions that you did not even recognize you had bottled up inside. I often left with a smile on my face and feeling like a tremendous burden has been lifted. This therapy feels whole and complete.”
Numerous sessions later, Salinas graduated from the program.
On Saturday, Salinas sat beside his Blue Star Ranch colleagues as a graduate and someone who fell in love with the program so much that he now works with it.
Blue Star Ranch invited the community to learn more about their efforts in the veterans community and see a live demonstration of the program on Saturday.
Blue Star Ranch is a member of the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA). Their mission statement is, “to provide equine assisted therapy to our nation’s veterans.”
The program works as a one-on-one session between the veteran and horse, assisted by a licensed therapist and EAGALA-certified therapist. The horses’ role is simply to be a real and present being. Spouses and children are also welcome to attend the sessions.
The veterans, however, do not ride the horses, as co-founder Nancy Zhe said it is another hurdle to jump over and puts the horse in a place lower than the veteran. Instead, the two work in a series of collaborating exercises. Attendees could see them in real time on Saturday.
The open house event featured six panelists to answer any questions about the program: Nancy Zhe, the co-founder, Jane Del Vecho, an equine specialist, Katie Ryan, a licensed therapist, Debra Winters, a licensed therapist, Salinas, and Adam Volchok, all associated with Blue Star Ranch.
Assemblywoman Pilar Schiavo, D-Santa Clarita, was also present for the event.
Attendees interested in the program expressed why they were there — feeling that they were having “pills thrown in their mouths,” constantly being forced inside and being pressured into seeking one form of help.
Winters assured that this form of therapy is adaptable to the individual veterans’ needs.
“We bring you in with a horse, like we did today, whatever you want to work with, whatever else you want to connect with,” said Winters. “How you feel in that moment, one day you might be very connected to Mariah (one of the horses), next week, you might be like, ‘Oh, I want to work with Sammy (a donkey in the organization).’”
Each session is purely dependable on the horse’s actions and how the veteran can therefore interpret them.
“We’re looking for the natural behavior coming from the horse and how you would interpret that as a vet during the sessions,” said Del Vecho. “You sort of follow the EAGALA model, which is totally natural for us to let the horse do what the horse will do. The horse is a member of the therapy.”
Salinas and Volchok expressed that this model has changed their lives in many ways.
“Doing the sessions with the horses, like their partner, and they make you step back and think about your problems,” said Salinas.
“I’m really learning how to react and respond,” said Volchok. “The horses taught me to back off and pause … For example, today I had folders with things I’m dealing with, having problems with, a horse stepped on it and it’s like, I had that problem today with communication and everything else, it was very interesting.”
For more information on Blue Star Ranch, visit bluestarranch.org.