Dave Carey was one of a group of veterans visiting Ananda Farm in New Tripoli on Nov. 14 to take part in a unique outdoor therapy program called Horses Helping Heroes which was coordinated through the Wilkes-Barre Veterans Hospital.
Upon arriving, Carey said he wanted to work with Ruby, the same animal he had been with the previous month.
"I love Ruby," he said.
That signaled the start of another once-a-month session between Carey and his four-footed friend.
After studying how horses can be used to help people, Andrea Swift, a former special education teacher, coordinated a program for veterans with the horses at Ananda Farm.
When asked why horses are preferred over other animals, Swift explained that they are prey animals which makes them more sensitive to human emotions.
"People can't fake it to get the proper response," she said.
Marian Skomsky, a recreational therapist, said just the fact of becoming emotional and having another creature respond to it can lead to healing.
The group of veterans saw two horses chasing each other. That became a teaching moment for Swift.
"The horses are not always calm and quiet," she said.
After the animals are haltered, two people are assigned to each horse who lead them through "temptation alley." These distractions include buckets of hay for the horses that represent money, alcohol that is used for comfort and stress and medications for the people.
The strengths, which the veterans name themslves, include Alcoholics Anonymous, support of family and friends, coping skills, medication (remember, medication was also a distraction incorrectly used), occupational therapy, recreational therapy, relaxation, yoga, faith and hope.
An obstacle course, including lined pathways, jumps and serpentine cones, is a big part of the teaching experience.
The horses may not be touched as they are led through and should not be allowed to reach the hay, which represents the distractions. Swift said the course could go straight or have a turn.
The trail could be modified, such as lowering a jump, just as the trail of life can be modified.
One man suggested that some drums had to be set. They were placed close together and the horse had to go between them.
Two men took a horse named Ginger to the obstacle course but she didn't want to leave her baby and therefore, was not willing to work. The men were given another horse to work with.
"You kept your patience and kept trying," said Swift, in praise of their effort.
Christine Pierce helped one rider get on a horse named Barnaby by using a stool. Even saddling the horses became a teaching moment for the group. Pierce explained that it was better to do the saddling slow and right just as it's worthwhile doing things right in life.
After the day ended, Swift hoped the lessons of life taught on the farm wouldn't soon be forgotten.
"After they leave we hope they think about the things we talked about," she said.