As part of VPOM, we ran “Fearless Victory” for about a dozen years, a unique, scientifically-sound, therapeutic program, employing teaching mindfulness and using equine-assisted therapy to develop effective and readily available tools to work with post-traumatic stress and other military traumas.
Fearless Victory’s two-pronged approach worked first with formal mindfulness techniques such as secular sitting meditation, walking, intently listening, and observing sensory sights, sounds, feelings, and smells. It included presentations on meditation and mind, and it always had open discussions where veterans could offer support to one another.
It then brought mindfulness into action through observation of equine behavior, grooming, training, and riding horses. Horses are always attuned to their bodily experience, and because they are herd animals, they’re very aware of everything around them – every presence, every mood. Their minds are naturally alert to any information the environment sends out. Without deception, pretense, scheming, or agenda, they are simply present and alert. Therefore, they mirror what participants bring to them. If someone is loud, anxious, or freaked out, a horse will react. If spoken to softly and approached gently, the horse will “react” with welcome.
Because we used rescue horses – rounded up as Mustangs – they were themselves traumatized, hyper-vigilant, and easily frightened. By observation, participants could see the post-traumatic stress the horses manifested and learn the qualities that help them to settle down. In order to relate with the horses properly, the participants had to relate to those very same difficult qualities in themselves and find their own calm, clear space to communicate from. In this way, the activity worked in a very direct way with the participants’ emotional state and could become mutually healing for both veteran and horse.
Over the years we met regularly and held many events at Medicine Horse and later at Twin Oaks Farm in the Boulder, Colorado area. We did an “Outer War, Inner Peace” program at Drala Mountain Center in Red Feather Lakes, Colorado. We had the good fortune to get a teaching visit from Tibetan meditation master Ringu Tulku Rinpoche, and we hosted on several occasions the “Veterans to Farmers” program. PBS even came once to do a short video on us:
In 2020, during the intense COVID period, Twin Oaks, where we had been doing our program, got sold, and we’ve since suspended our Fearless Victory work, but it was a great source of good friendships and comradery, and many wonderful days working with horses who cheered us all up!