A low drone of anxiety and uncertainty accompanies Thursday evening for a group of 7 military servicemen as they arrive in Tampa.
These brave warriors from all over the U.S. aren’t sure what to expect as they take their first steps on the dusty ground at Quantum Leap Farm to begin a weekend of equine therapy.
Many of these men have been deployed overseas and have scars (internally and externally) from the harsh conditions of war. They’ve had difficulty reintegrating into civilian life and reconnecting to their relationships. They often feel misunderstood, frustrated and hopeless. As they make their way around the Farm, however, all of this begins to change.
In collaboration with the Lone Survivor Foundation, Quantum Leap Farm hosts monthly weekend retreats to serve active and veteran military men and women who have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBI), chronic pain and military sexual trauma (MST).
These retreats are more than just horseplay. In addition to on-the-ground horse activities through the Farm’s At EASE (Equine-Assisted Self Exploration) Program, participants receive a comprehensive therapeutic experience with sessions of Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART), Neurofeedback, and group discussion about the difficulties dealing with PTSD & mTBI.
Accelerated Resolution Therapy is an emerging psychotherapy that uses rapid eye movement to reprocess emotional trauma and traumatic memories. ART helps file these memories in the proper areas of the brain and reduce the emotional triggers connected to them. This allows service members to come down from their usual states of hyper arousal and return to daily activities with lower stress levels. Participants find this therapy highly effective and experience relief almost immediately.
Neurofeedback involves retraining the brain to return to states of relaxation after states of heightened arousal in a timely manner. A monitor tracks the brain waves of the participant and provides a powerful visual of the brain areas lit up with red or green indicating stress or relaxation. Participants are often surprised by the adaptability of their brains to adjust so quickly and feel empowered by the possibility of getting back to a more balanced way of being.
The At EASE sessions with Quantum Leap Farm’s gentle and unique horses provide the service members with an opportunity to start applying what they’ve learned. Through individual and group sessions, participants engage in a variety of activities including navigating obstacles, overcoming challenges and everyone’s favorite—hauling around horse manure.
In one activity, participants are asked to choose a horse to guide over hurdles that symbolize difficulties in daily life. In a recent session, 5 out of 7 men chose the same horse, Thunder—who has a reserved, standoffish nature. Later, each of the men individually expressed that they chose Thunder because he represented their current relational style. These men continually chose this horse throughout the duration of the weekend, symbolizing their own desire for their loved ones to stick with them despite their sometimes-cold, distant behavior.
Sunday afternoon approaches with bittersweet chimes of the men talking and laughing together. They don’t want the weekend to end as they’ve finally found a place where they feel connected and understood. Many come back a second time to continue their journey while some go home to recommend the experience to others. Overall, the men leave with hope that healing is possible.