A program to provide equine-assisted therapy for wounded or disabled military veterans and active-duty soldiers is ready to ride.
"We will launch our program in April," said Marie Postiglione-Dupell, director of Medicine Horse Farm in Morrisonville and a certified instructor of the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association. The Horses for Heroes program will be offered at Medicine Horse and at Snowslip Farm in Lake Placid.
Postiglione-Dupell's nephew, Specialist John Postiglione, with Morrisonville-based National Guard Bravo Company 2-108, serves as a mentor to the soldiers and veterans who take part. They will accompany the soldiers and veterans as they ride and care for the horses as a means toward physical wellness and emotional healing.
He and Specialist Jarrod Britt checked out the center after a call from his aunt, and they agreed that having military mentors would help acclimate participants more rapidly.
They went through a Riding for the Handicapped training program on safety for horse and rider, grooming and even Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act privacy and security rules, then started to work with the pilot program participants.
Postiglione said one of the first things they notice when veterans arrive is the instant compassion they have for the horse.
"You look in the eyes of the horse, and it does calm you down," he said.
Britt said it's an improvement from therapy sessions in the military.
"It's a much more relaxed environment. It doesn't seem as much like therapy. Even the mentors benefit from how the program is put on."
Postiglione-Dupell said the John and Evelyn B. Trevor Charitable Foundation has provided funding for eight veterans to take part so far. Three are already waiting to participate in April, she said, and will receive one hour of therapy a week for 12 weeks. Four spots remain available.
Those who would like to include the equine-assisted therapy as an adjunct to their standard therapy need to be referred by their primary-care physician, mental-health services provider, occupational therapist or physical therapist. The therapy is only approved for coverage if it is conducted at a North American Riding for the Handicapped Association center.
Postiglione-Dupell hopes more scholarship money will be donated so more veterans can take the program at no cost. Otherwise, the price tag is $800 for 12 sessions; she offers a $200 discount for those who pay out of pocket.