The following is written by 15-year old Pricilla Guillen, who participates in Listening Horse with her Big Sister, Leanne, from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northern New Mexico.

You asked me about my experience at Listening Horse? Well, here I go! I’ve had ups and downs with Zorro, the therapy horse my sister Leanne & I work with. My friend, Zorro, is very mischievous and likes to do whatever he wants, but it’s a blast with him and his silliness. Well, to start off my story, when I first saw Zorro the fact of him being a horse was fascinating on its own. I was excited to start riding him already. We first started combing him. His soft fur with his thick mane was a mixture like his personality. I loved his fur and mane the way they swayed in the wind. After grooming Mr. Zorro, we started to get on him and walk a little. I enjoyed it very much and was excited for the next Saturday. I always looked forward to Saturdays because I knew those would be the days I would see Zorro and be able to ride him. When we rode him bare back once, I felt in touch with Zorro and it was a marvelous feeling. I closed my eyes and felt like I could just fly away from the saddle. I felt like a bird. Then, Zorro started acting up and being Zorro. I got disappointed in myself because I wasn’t able to handle him. He wasn’t listening so I got upset with him and myself. I could handle him, but I was just giving up. After that day, I realized giving up didn’t help the situation at all. The next Saturday (with the support of everyone), I got back on track and felt more confident about what I was doing. I was then exited not just to see Zorro, but to see what challenges he would be giving me that day. Trotting was probably the next challenge. When I first tried trotting I felt like I was on a crazy trampoline or something. I was messy, didn’t know what I was doing, and I was scared. Then, from night to day, I suddenly knew how to trot and I did a type of trot called posting. I go up and down with a rhythm. It was weird because I just suddenly started doing it without being afraid and I was so proud of myself. Now, I trot without even thinking about it and it’s tremendous. I’ve gone so far! I’m glad me and Leanne joined Listening Horse! I love Listening Horse and can’t wait to start riding again. I feel so relaxed and calm with Zorro. He has taught me so many things in a way not imagined.  The volunteers are astonishing and they know what they’re doing. They have many different was to teach things and I think that’s great because people have different ways of learning. My experiences so far have been magnificent and I hope many more people join and see what I’m talking about. 

The following is from an article by PATH Intl. Equine Services for Heroes rider Alex E. Limkin about his relationship with Listening Horse therapy horse Promise. It appeared in the Albuquerque Alibi.

There had been nightmares. Images of bullet-riddled cars and murals and vending machines and blown-up buildings. Fallen bridges. Towering palm trees folded over like fractured limbs. A landscape of blunt force trauma–without people, without animals, without sounds, without life. I woke up several times and sat in my backyard in the darkness, rolling my head from side to side the same way you try to clear your ears after swimming, or to dislodge something rotten from inside you, something trying to gain a foothold there. I reassured myself by thinking about my neighbors sleeping quietly next door, safe in their beds, their little boy. I swallowed down the anxiety with short breaths. “the world is not yet ended. You are safe. You’re OK,” I whispered. Gus tells me how the the horses live in the present, not thinking of anything else but the here and now. “They’re not thinking about what they’re going to do this afternoon, or something that bothered them last night. When you’re around a horse, you have to understand that.” I take up a brush and start grooming Promise, a brown horse still wearing her winter shag. I try to empty my mind, try to sense the unfolding day, the unfolding moment, through her. I feel myself relaxing, watching her breathe, feeling her sides expand and contract evenly beneath my hand. I pull clumps of hair off the brush and let the wind take them. Now a tail swishes, now a foot lifts and lowers; I relax some more. The muzzle, which I know is velvety soft, flares. I have an impulse to crawl inside her belly and fall asleep. Gus tells me that when she licks her lips, and her chin and mouth tremble, it’s a sing that she is content. …Gus rescued Promise from abusive owners. “They beat this old girl with whatever they could get a hold of. …”

The story of Promise makes me appreciate her more, makes me love her. She bends her head down toward me as I’m brushing her. She nuzzles my waist and I tense up at the prospect of being bitten. But I don’t shy away. “I’m not going to hurt you, old girl,” I murmur. Is she convinced? It’s hard to say, but she doesn’t bite–just nibbles the edge of my coat with her lips and goes back to standing still in the sun. Then, brushing her warm flanks, I see her lick her lips. I see her mouth and chin tremble, quiver slightly, like the face of a child about to cry. For some reason, the sight of this moves me unexpectedly. I turn away from Gus to hide my sudden emotion, my tears. Promise trust me. In the moment she inhabits, breathing easily with her eyes closed, I am not a threat to her. I am not a threat to her, and the world is not a threat to me. I am safe. I am not going to die. At the edge of the arena is a tree and some shade. The sun has risen and the air is warming. I feel like I can sleep beneath the tree for a while, stretched out there with Promise close by. I feel like I can lie down and find dreams of snowcapped mountains and green pastures and blue skies again, before the world was broken.

The Horses for Heroes (now PATH Intl. Equine Services for Heroes) program at Listening Horse is the best thing to happen to me since I got out of the military. It has taught me a lot of new things and helped me to try and become a better person. It has helped me handle my PTSD and my physical disabilities. It is a great experience to get to work with the horses and to connect to them.

J, G., Male Veteran, US Army, Iraq War

It is my belief that PTSD is a personal disorder, because it blossoms out of our most intimately painful and traumatic experience(s), mental and/or physical. An event that is exceptionally traumatic for one person, may not affect another person in the same way. Combat PTSD and non-Combat PTSD (usually involving sexual harassment, sexual assault, etc., of male and/or female vets) expresses itself differently in each individual diagnosed with it. For me, some of my own symptoms include loneliness, isolation, anxiety, depression, super-vigilance, spiritual emptiness and suicidal ideation. I have nightmares that put me right back in the Marine Corps very often.

Being in the open, with horses, and all the vets, it has become my “church”, where I feel like I actually belong. I am also learning how defeating my fear of horses has helped me to defeat fears in other areas of my life. In losing my fear of horses, I became really happy and excited. These feelings are not easy to come by amongst people with PTSD. I now look forward to being able to trot a bit faster each time. I have to remind myself to “stay in the present” both mentally and emotionally, as the horse only knows how to perceive and communicate in the present. I only wish that more female veterans of any age would at least come out and try the program.

Listening Horse Therapeutic Riding has reduced my feelings of isolation and loneliness. At least for me, I feel like I am really with family only when I’m surrounded by veterans. I am really proud of Gus Jolley for starting this program, and hope that the program will be come larger, as PTSD sufferers can actually see the benefits in a very short time. The program can only succeed if enough veterans take advantage of this free program, so please come out and make it a success for all of us.

S. K., Female Veteran, US Marine Corps