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Iowa State University Extension

When a horse is more than a horse: Therapy for military families

Operation Military Kids try therapeutic riding

Sometimes a horse is good therapy. An internship at a therapeutic riding stable convinced ISU student Victoria Birkenholtz that it might be just the kind of therapy a military family would need when a soldier parent finally comes home. So the former 4-H’er brought her idea to ISU Extension’s Operation: Military Kids (OMK) program. That idea developed into a partnership with three therapeutic riding programs around the state and has resulted in workshops to help military families and their returning soldiers get to know each other again.

“When I started working with OMK this summer, one of the things we discussed was the struggles youth face when a parent deploys, serves in a war and then comes back into the family. I have seen horses help youth open up and share their feelings and thought there may be a way to use horses to help military youth with the issues they face,” Birkenholtz said.

The OMK “horse therapy” provides structured time for the youth and returning soldier to bond. It also gives the family a project they can work on together and something in common they can talk about at home.

“I spent a lot of time crying into my horse’s neck while I was growing up. I know the comfort a big docile horse can bring to a hurting young person,” Birkenholtz said. Extension’s 4-H program helped her discover her passion —using horses to enhance, improve and build the lives of youth.

This article appeared in September 2007 -- From Jack Payne Newsletter