Horses and Heroes Gala

Determination and compassion drove the team behind the War Horse Project, who decided to launch a program in 2014 to benefit veterans with PTSD, without giving a second thought to any financial losses they may experience. Two years later, the organization is now on its feet and hopes to cast a wider net through their first annual Horses & Heroes Gala on March 4.

The War Horse Project, launched in July 2014 by the Hope Reins Equine Assisted Therapy, is a 16-week program broken into two phases that helps veterans, soldiers and first responders manage PTSD both on an individual and family level.

The therapy sessions are a hands-on approach through the use of horses and peer support. Facilitators discuss topics that affect the ill and injured and then learn about themselves and skills through the horses.

“Post Traumatic Stress is a normal reaction to abnormal circumstances, and helping our injured redefine what is ‘normal’ for themselves is crucial to the healing process,” said Alison Vandergragt, program director of the Hope Reins Equine Assisted Therapy Programs.

Hope Reins Equine Assisted Therapy has been partnered with The Phoenix Centre for Children and Families for many years. The organization works with families who struggle with mental, emotional and behavioural concerns. Through their work, the team noticed that military families faced a different set of challenges compared to their civilian counterparts.

“We noted that many of the military families were dealing with a unique paradigm that surrounded a deployment history. We began to call it ‘the elephant in the arena,’” said Vandergragt.

A chance meeting with two veterans caused Vandergragt to decide she could not longer wait for sufficient funding to launch a specific program for military members “even if that meant an out of pocket loss for the facilitating team.” The program launched in 2014, and eventually, the pieces fell into place.

“That year we banked over 1,800 volunteer hours, and our efforts began to pay off, people began to see the importance of what we were doing, and donations began to come in,” recalled Vandergragt.

The project will now receive some funding for the next three years from Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services. However, the War Horse Project team hopes to raise a few thousand dollars to help with the care and upkeep of the horses.

“…When their expenses are covered, it allows us to have them available for The War Horse Project Reconnect, a peer support group where Alumni are able to come back to work with or ride the horses, or to stop in just to hang out with their favourite horse,” explained Vandergragt.

But Vandergragt says the gala is not just about raising money.

“While it is important to raise dollars to support the future of the program, it is equally important to build a network of informed and supportive individuals who can help us raise the profile and awareness of our injured Veterans, but for our First Responders as well,” said Vandergragt.

The main speaker of the night will be retired Major-Gen. Lewis MacKenzie. The evening will also feature a silent auction, door prizes and a dance afterwards.

The Horses & Heroes Gala will be held at the Petawawa Golf Club on Friday, March 4. To purchase tickets or to learn more about the War Horse Project visit their website.

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Mishall Rehman

Originally from Atlanta, GA, Mishall is a freelance journalist pursuing her passion for writing in her new homeland Canada. She currently lives in Trenton, ON with her husband.

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