After increasing success, the non-profit organization Heroes Equine Learning Program (H.E.L.P.), committed to supporting military members and first responders with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is currently on a path to expand its services across the country.
H.E.L.P. is a confidential four-day wellness retreat based on the world-renowned Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) model. Although the program is not a substitute for therapy, it helps clients build a relationship with horses to cultivate problem-solving skills, developing solutions and determine the best course for healing. No riding is involved.
Over the course of the four days, participants take part in equine learning sessions with the horses and educational classes to better learn how the mind and body react to traumatic events. Plus attendees can enjoy arts and crafts, nature walks and fire-side chats.
The program is carried out in partnership with mental health professionals.
“It allows them to find congruency in their body. The horses help bring them back into that space and helps them to some realizations in their life and helps them find that peace and acceptance in their body and to move on in their lives,” said Ryan Theriault, Founder H.E.L.P. and an advanced certified equine specialist.
Accepting their diagnoses and how to move forward is at the core of the program.
“No one’s giving them a recipe [saying] ‘you know you have this diagnosis, and this is what’s going to happen with the diagnosis.’ It’s very different for everyone, so the four days really helps them to figure things out for themselves,” commented Theriault.
H.E.L.P. also gives participants a chance to connect with one another on their path to recovery.
“It normalizes the effects of what’s going on for them, and then they’re able to leave with more of a reassurance and acceptance,” stated Theriault.
This is why each session comprises of a minimum of five participants and a maximum of twelve.
Since many of the participants are in the process of transitioning out of their careers, H.E.L.P. can give participants a sense of hope and understanding for what comes next.
“We believe our clients have the answers and solutions for what’s going on in their lives. Therefore, they’re able to come up with that one their own and come up with their own transitions instead of someone coming up with it for them,” explained Theriault.
H.E.L.P. is broken down into three parts: part one is for participants to attend and gain a better insight into their condition and leave with acceptance; part two is for participants to return with their partners, and part three is for participants to return with their entire family.
More than 20 military members and first responders have taken part in the program and many, says Theriault, continue to return because of the program’s impact.
“Quoting their words they said it was the last time they found themselves happy, when they had come to the retreat,” noted Theriault.
H.E.L.P. was established four years ago and was registered as a non-profit last year. As soon as the program receives its charitable status, Theriault says the goal is to increase the availability of the program, and one facility is just two hours from the next.
“It will give that availability to members to attend a wellness retreat really close to home. So, they don’t have to travel very far. We do recognize people who are affected by PTSD and OSIs, sometimes travelling is not something they are capable of doing,” said Theriault.
Currently, the program is largely conducted out of the Ottawa area, but the organization does partner with various other facilities to deliver H.E.L.P.
H.E.L.P. is free to attend, and meals and accommodation are provided for.
To register for the program or to learn more visit the H.E.L.P. website