PTSD Among Veterans and First Responders

It has been shown that an estimated 30 percent of veterans and first responders develop PTSD or other behavioral health conditions. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 20 veterans die by suicide each day.1

The most popular talk therapy treatments for PTSD, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy, have high dropout rates. Even these therapies and additional pharmacological therapies for PTSD have success for no more than 50 percent of the general patient population for PTSD and that number is even lower among veterans and first responders.2

The Horse: Man’s Other Best Friend

The relationship between man and horse is deeply rooted in history, having been man’s working companion for thousands of years.  Horses are very social and their ability to read human emotions and mirror those emotions is well documented. The most appealing trait of the horse is that if he is given the proper body language and leadership, he begins to put trust above his own fears.1

For this reason, they are an excellent choice to give those struggling with PTSD a chance to reflect on their inner self without any judgement and help to develop coping skills. Working with such a large animal can also force people to step out of their comfort zones. 

The Journal of Rehabilitation Research & Development (JRRD) explains, “As prey animals, horses are hypervigilant until they learn they are not in danger. Unlike with many dogs, who trust unconditionally, horses require humans to work to gain their trust. Because of their own hypervigilance, [those] with PTSD easily understand and can relate to the trust and hypervigilance in a horse.”4

Recent research has shown that therapeutic horse activities can lead to a significant statistical decrease in PTSD symptoms, such as insomnia, flashbacks, or panic attacks, after just three weeks of treatment. It has been found that there is a 66.7% likelihood for patients engaging in horse related activities to have a lower PTSD score at three weeks, and 87.5% likely after six weeks.Through horse-human interaction, clients can relearn how to recognize their feelings, regulate emotions, and better communicate, as well as build trust and come to trust themselves again. These are all valuable tools to help clients succeed with family, work, and social relationships.3

Why Mustangs?

While Mustang Forces will be using horses that will be a good fit for the program, regardless of their breed or history, the heart of the program will be centered around mustangs.  

The mustang represents a profound history of the United States, and the love of mustangs is shared by millions across the globe. Mustangs represent freedom, power, and confidence in the wild. Since mustangs need to learn to accept human interaction, where domesticated horses do not, it allows an opportunity to start with a blank slate and create a bond. Due to this, mustangs require a lot more patience and work to build that trust and once earned, the bond is incredibly strong. Mustangs usually have an even temperament and are very intelligent and willing to learn once they have learned to trust their human handler. “Mustangs are capable of bonding very deeply to their human, just as in the wild they bonded to their herd mates. Once they trust you and bond with you, it goes very deep.”6

Animal Welfare Concerns?

Rest assured, according to a study performed by researchers at Rutgers’s University, involving Equine-Assisted Activities and Therapies (EAAT) with Veteran PTSD patients. Both human and horse participants were studied to determine not only the effect of treatment on the patients, but whether these activities cause undue stress to the horse participants. 

While the study determined the “symptoms of PTSD did change significantly in the veterans who participated in this study” that the “stress levels, as demonstrated by plasma cortisol concentrations and HRV, did not change in horses involved in EAAT sessions with veterans who had been previously diagnosed with PTSD.”5


1. Burrelli, B. (n.d.). Behavior similarities among wild vs. domestic horses. Holistic Horse. Retrieved February 20, 2022, from http://www.google.com/amp/s/holistichorse.com/api/amp/health-care/behavior-similarities-among-wild-vs-domestic-horses/

2. Fisher, P., Lieberman, J. A., & Neria, Y. (n.d.). Equine therapy helps to HEAL PTSD. Equine Therapy Helps to Heal PTSD . Retrieved February 20, 2022, from https://www.nyp.org/newsletters/prof-adv/psych/equine-therapy-helps-ptsd 

3. Horse therapy helps Veterans Overcome Trauma. Columbia University Department of Psychiatry. (2021, November 8). Retrieved February 20, 2022, from http://www.columbiapsychiatry.org/news/horse-therapy-helps-veterans-overcome-trauma

4. How horse riding and ‘equine therapy’ has helped PTSD sufferers. PTSD UK. (n.d.). Retrieved February 20, 2022, from http://www.ptsduk.org/how-horse-riding-and-equine-therapy-has-helped-ptsd-sufferers/

5. Malinowski, K., Yee, C., Tevlin, J. M., Birks, E. K., Durando, M. M., Pournajafi-Nazarloo, H., Cavaiola, A. A., & McKeever, K. H. (2018). The effects of equine assisted therapy on plasma cortisol and oxytocin concentrations and heart rate variability in horses and measures of symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science64, 17–26. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jevs.2018.01.011 

6. TrailRider. (2008, May 31). Mustang Horse Breed. EQUISEARCH For People Who Love Horses . Retrieved February 20, 2022, from https://www.equisearch.com/articles/mustang-horse-breed 

Recent Posts

More Posts