Why We Don’t Ride: Equine Assisted Psychotherapy, Military Veterans and Moral Injury

While programs using horses with war veterans proliferate few aim specifically at Moral Injury. Many believe that riding horses constitutes therapy for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. While there may be a benefit because the movement of the horse is regulating to the nervous system, this practice is contraindicated for warriors with Moral Injury which we see as separate and distinct from PTSD, and not a disorder. Our definition of Moral Injury is that it is an existential/spiritual crisis that is the result of having been trained to override the instinctual aversion to the taking of human life. It can also be the consequence of having perpetrated acts during combat operations, necessary at the time for survival, that damage one’s conscience or moral compass. To the extent that warriors may have both PTSD and Moral Injury, the latter requires a different clinical approach. Warriors who attend Trauma and Resiliency Resources Inc.’s Warrior Camp® program do not ride. Nor do they have access to halters, lead lines or other instruments of domination or control.

Our work at TRR is in accordance with the EAGALA model of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. This method best suits warriors with Moral Injury because it allows for a more robust use of the horse’s capacity for nonjudgmental intuitive mirroring. In particular, a horse’s ability to intuitively target post-war attachment disruptions caused by morally injurious combat experiences is best employed when the veterans keep their feet on the ground.

Keywords: Combat, Conscience, Equine, Equine Assisted Psychotherapy, Moral Injury, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, Warriors, War Veterans
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Trauma and Resiliency Resources, Inc.

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