Military Program

In December 2010, we launched a project to explore the benefits of equine-based therapy for soldiers who have returned from all conflicts and who have physical and mental challenges as a result of their service.  Equine therapy has proven to help those living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, substance abuse, trust issues and the like. 

Since then, our program has flourished and we have created partnerships with Wounded Warrior, SFVA, Swords to Plowshares  and the USO. This has allowed us to expand our programming to include current military familes. 

Our current available options:

Option One - Veterans/Current Military
We offer weekly classes in which each rider comes before class to tack up their own horse. They are guided by a seasoned volunteer until they are comfortable doing it on their own. Then they walk the horse into the arena, where they mount the horse assisted by the instructor and begin a 45 minute lesson. Lessons are geared toward gaining command of the horse, basic riding skills, increased self-confidence, forming a bond with a horse, and recreation. Our sessions are ten weeks long - see our rider calendar for dates. Sign up for Option One.

Demonstrating how to lead horses with calm, confident language and movement.

Option Two - Veterans
Once a month, we hold a two-part workshop, with half of the attendees participating in a ground lesson in which they learn horse behavior, grooming, tacking, leading and principles in controlling a horse, while the other attendees participate in a traditional mounted lesson. 

Groundwork is perhaps the best course for these heroes and the PTSD with which they are living. It’s all about the relationship between the person and the horse. They learn trust, body language, and confidence as they guide and groom their horse. The participants develop a deep awareness of themselves due to the acute use of all their senses.  Because our horses (and horses in general) have a willing nature and an innate instinct to interact and bond with others, they are uniquely qualified to be the perfect partner to assist in working through issues that arise from the devastating effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The paperwork is simple for this groundwork - by signing a release, the vet can participate. Sign up for Option Two.

Option Three - Current Military Families
Through our partnership with USO with our Services to Saddles Project, we are now offering groundwork classes for current military families, helping them deal with the absence of a loved one, or recover from the trials of being separated and in combat.

Working with instructors trained in the EAGALA method (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association) , participants can experience equine assisted psychotherapy that has proven to be effective.

We count on our military community to answer the call. But the special demands we place on them make them susceptible to high levels of stress and trauma. Our active military, reserves, veterans and the people who love them live through the horrors of war, long-term separations and the kinds of challenging life adjustments that most will never experience. Veterans and military families come to Giant Steps for peace, companionship and recreation.   

One of our Veteran riders said, “There are only two places where I feel calm: the beach and spending time with my horse at Giant Steps”.  This interaction leads to a state of well-being that goes beyond being free of illness. 

At Giant Steps, participants trust that their horses will carry them safely.  In turn, their horses trust that their handlers will treat them with kindness and respect.  For many soldiers, relationships built on mutual trust are difficult to re-build, but as our riders learn that their horses look to them for guidance, their self-confidence grows. 

Horses teach the values of kindness, confidence and consistency. This addresses the frequent issue of substance abuse.  Horses always speak the truth, and their innate ability to read body language tells riders things about themselves that they did not know on their own.  It’s all about the relationship between the person and the horse. The participants develop a deep awareness of themselves due to the acute use of all their senses.  Horsemanship lessons extend to “humanship” as our riders develop relationships with fellow riders and volunteers.  The supportive environment at Giant Steps is the perfect place to learn. For more information or to get involved, please contact Julie Larson, Program Director at [email protected].

One of the most compelling stories in our experience thus far is the story of Mr. X.  Our liaison with the veterans group shared that Mr. X has visited Giant Steps earlier in the season, but was too intimidated to ride.  He shared in his group therapy session that he needed support which was one of the reasons for the incredibly strong turn-out at the following class.  When he first arrived, he was excited, but also a little anxious.  He darted around the barn, helping all of the other vets prep the horses, and he talked a great deal with the staff.  The ground lesson eased his fears and by the end of the visit, Mr. X, with some trepidation, mounted his horse and circled the arena a few times.  When he dismounted, he was beaming, asking his horse, Scarlet, to look for him next time, and peppering the other veterans with questions about their horses.  It was a sight to behold.

Overcoming trepidation Mr. X rides Scarlet

Some of our veterans have now become consistent volunteers serving in a leadership role with our children with disabilities. Volunteers serve as side walkers, horse leaders, groomers, gardeners and barn maintenance crew. This is available any day of the week.  Become a volunteer.

Continuing to Grow
We have learned that veteran agencies are overwhelmed with assisting returning vets from Iraq and Afghanistan.  This creates a long process to set up meetings, get the word out, and actively recruit riders.  We have built relationships with key organizations, and developed regular check-in points to expedite this process for our families. If you know of an organization that would like to get involved, please contact Julie Larson, Program Director at [email protected]  or 707-781-9455.