BLAIR COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) — There’ something about spending time with animals that puts people at ease.
If you travel to one barn in Tyrone, you’ll see just how big of an impact horses can have on our local veterans.
After 20 years of service and 12 combat tours, John Zanella was dealing with physical and mental problems that many veterans face.
At the end of his career, he was medically discharged, living in Washington state. He was looking for help and then found equine therapy.
“For me this is what really worked and kinda corrected so much of what I didn’t even know needed fixed,” Zanella said.
When he moved to central Pennsylvania he couldn’t find a program like it, so he grabbed the reins and founded Victory Therapeutic Horsemanship.
As veterans continue with their therapy, they set goals and challenges for themselves, learning everything from taking care of their horse and going for a ride.
“The horses are specific to veteran’s needs, their not little pony’s that’s gonna be walked around, it’s a challenging animal, it’s gonna push them to be better and form their independence,” Zanella said.
The horses can help a vet physically heal.
“We have veterans who have a hard time walking out there can’t bend over don’t have the flexibility or the strength and over the course of a few weeks a veteran who couldn’t bend over and pick up their grooming tools in a few weeks in is picking up the horse’s hooves, jumping on the horse with no effort,” Zanella said.
As well as mentally.
“It’s very hard to socialize in a lot of cases it’s very hard to bond and the bonds of trust are much easier to form with an animal than often other people,” Zanella said.
Jerry Webber is in his second year with VTH.
He said this program brought him back to life.
“Before I was down, I was shut in, I was shut off from everything, I started coming here, and slowly but surely started coming back to me,” Webber said.
This was Webbers first experience with horses. From day one, finding a best friend in hoodoo.
“First day here we were introduced to all the horses and it seemed like hoodoo picked me,” Webber said.
Webber tried other forms of therapy before hearing about VTH.
“To me, this is more natural, more free, I don’t have to worry about saying how I feel I just feel it the horse feels it, we work through it together, it’s pretty nice,” Webber said.
Rebecca Davidson started working with the nonprofit 6 years ago. To her, it’s more than just therapy.
“Honestly the vets tend to become like family, I feel like they are just an extension of my family and it’s nice to see them progress each week and to be able to help and just to be able to give back to them for everything they have given,” Davidson said.
There are five programs, each an eight-week session.
Veterans are welcomed to stay as long as they like or feel they need to.
If you are a veteran who wishes to receive this therapy you can reach out to VTH.