How horses help veterans at Sierra Tucson

How horses help veterans at Sierra Tucson

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Vic Gilbert works as a primary therapist at Sierra Tucson, where he provides support to veterans and helps with the equine program.

He's aware of the benefits that horses bring to therapy for veterans, because Gilbert, who served in the U.S. Navy, went through the program decades ago.

"I saw this great big monster and I went into seeing it as an adversary, which flipped me back to survival mode because I knew how to take care of a threat," said Gilbert. "That worked well back then, but it's not so cool for civilian life."

He doesn't speak much about his time in the service, so Gilbert would rather focus on those who arrive at Sierra Tucson. He encourages some with the reminder that those who serve their country are not the types to simply quit on anything. Others need to know they're dealing with a fellow veteran.

"I know exactly what it's like. I've been exactly where you are now," he said he tells them. "Trust me, man. I wouldn't let a brother down."

More than 1,000 people participate in the equine program every year, according to Chief Operations Officer Jaime Vinck.

She said veterans will typically be anxious around a horse and the animal can sense that. Learning to care for them and build a connection to a horse can help a veteran open up without the worry of being judged, according to Vinck.

"Horses bring pure magic to the lives of anyone who is seeking healing," she said. "And they can be a companion, they can be eyes to the soul, and they can access things that we as clinicians cannot."

Gilbert said the healing doesn't stop with the horses. Sierra Tucson recently began offering a therapy session that brings veterans together to talk about the transition to civilian life.

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