Amanda Held has always had an intuitive connection with horses and the animals’ ability to heal, but it wasn’t until she found herself dealing with depression and anxiety while serving in the Air Force that she began to see the true power behind having a kinship with horses.
“I rescued a wild mustang— a baby,” Held said. “I bought the horse to train it and, as I was learning its language and how to gain control over it, I had to gain control over my own emotions to get the horse to respond to me.” That was the seed that eventually grew into the nonprofit, H.O.O.V.E.S., which now includes a holistic weekend retreat for veterans who need help with emotional trauma.
Held, the founder and facilitator of the program, combines the principles of EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association) methods with her own techniques gathered from human behaviorists in Canada specializing in stress and trauma. Her work with these professionals prompted her to create EWIM (Equine Wisdom Integration Method).
“That’s when I really ended up with a dynamite program,” she explains, as horses teach people how to be present, and how to immediately let go of conflict once it’s over. Horses don’t hold grudges. “If we look at conflicts between people, it’s not the conflict that creates all the drama,” she said. “It’s the way people respond to the conflicts.”
To help service members connect and deal with their emotions, the program includes getting into an arena to interact with horses, participating in yoga, an essential oils class and working with massage therapists and chiropractors to “align their bodies as we align their minds. I’ve learned that these are the most effective things— when you put them all together, you get a dramatic, transformational healing.”
Much like the veterans who enter the program, all of the animals have a story as well. The H.O.O.V.E.S. farm also acts as a sanctuary for horses like Honey, who used to be a reserve champion show horse until he developed a disease that causes him to get nosebleeds when he overexerts himself. “A lot of the veterans who have been in combat have physical limitations now, so it’s really relatable for them to see that Honey is still useful even though he can’t do what his career was for so long,” explains Held.
Judgement free zone
There’s something about these interactions with 1200 pound animals that makes it impossible to not feel vulnerable, which Held sees as the first step toward healing. You won’t be judged by the animals, and you won’t be judged by anyone working at the farm. She tells the vets that she is not a therapist. “I tell them I’m here to give you space to find your own healing, just like I did.”
The H.O.O.V.E.S. retreat, monthly workshops, and support for the family’s of participating veterans are all free thanks to private donations. To make a donation or find out how to enter the retreat, visit hooves.us or call 419-930-7936.