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October 14, 2012

Equine therapy helping wounded warriors

DUNCAN — There is a passion burning deep inside Jan Smith, and the inferno is spreading.

More importantly, it’s reaching those that need it the most.

Smith owns Spirithorse Chisholm Trail Therapy Center in Comanche, and she is reaching out to those that have served and sacrificed for our country, those that have been part of the United States military.

Primarily that involves soldiers from Fort Sill, just 55 miles from the Spirithorse complex near Comanche Lake.

“We work with the soldiers who have been injured or who have suffered while serving our country,” Smith said. “We are not under the Wounded Warrior project; we are our own private organization, but we do work with wounded soldiers.

“We try to do as much as we can to build the core muscles for those with injuries. We work in mental and physical capacities, and lately, we’ve had more on the mental side.”

The Wounded Warriors Equine Therapy is designed to provide the soldiers with an outlet, a muscle training regimen and an opportunity to find much needed solace.

“Since August, we’ve had about 45 soldiers come over every week, and we tend to get the same three or four each time,” she said. “The suicide rate of the soldiers who have fought for our country is so high, and that’s why I always stress to them that only another soldier, another veteran will know how they feel. All I try to do is have a good, steady program for them to come enjoy the time they’re away from there.”

The project seems to be working.

The key is using horses to help assist in relieving the pain soldiers have suffered, both physical and mental.

A horse’s gait helps the soldiers with balance and core strength and develops muscle tone and self-confidence.

Horse therapy relaxes those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and provides therapy that can’t be found in a hospital setting.

“The first time I ever went to Fort Sill and saw the passion these guys have for our country, it became our passion to give back just a little bit,” said Smith, who operates Spirithorse with her husband, J.P. “It’s not much of time for them to come over to our ranch for four to five hours a day once a week, but it’s something we can do.”

Spirithorse also reaches out to children with special needs, and only recently has it been working with soldiers. But people have seen the work and have recognized just how important the equine therapy is.

The Wounded Warriors Equine Therapy has been adopted by the Chisholm Trail Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo committee as its charitable beneficiary.

The rodeo, set for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 18 through Saturday, Oct. 20, at the Stephens County Fair & Expo Center, and will feature the top contestants in the Oklahoma-Kansas-Nebraska region.

“The committee took this project under their wings that this will be the charity for the circuit finals,” Smith said. “We’ve been able to use the county’s indoor arena on the cold and windy days, so that’s great. Mike Anderson has opened his arms, and the county commission has donated the building for us to use like that, so we really appreciate it.

“I’m also involved in the rodeo, and Spirithorse is sponsoring the opening each night.”

There fans will see a large military presence, which is important to those associated with the rodeo and the community.

That’s why the soldiers’ involvement in the program is so special to Smith.

“”These soldiers are having the best time,” she said. “They want to learn. They want to learn about the horse and how they’re used in the different events. It opens a door to these soldiers that, in a hospital, they’d never have this kind of setting.”

What the therapy provides goes far beyond just spending time with the animals.

“It’s impacted the soldiers’ lives and our lives,” Smith said. “Some of them even come to help with our special needs children’s programs. They take the time to help out. Even though they’re mentally and physically beat up, they help out. They’re reaching out again.”

That’s the sign of true success.

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