Post-traumatic-stress disorder (PTSD) can have a crippling effect, destroying the marriages, families and lives of military veterans. But Nancy and John Zhe knew they could help. Together, they founded Blue Star Ranch, a unique program that combines Nancy’s 27 years’ experience designing equine therapy programs with John’s military service.
“The VA is overwhelmed with these cases,” Nancy explains, noting that more than 10,000 veterans reside in her hometown of Santa Clarita, Calif., alone. For local veterans struggling with PTSD and other mental health challenges, Blue Star Ranch is often the last resort.
“The veterans who come to us have often been through every kind of traditional therapy to no avail,” she adds. That reality makes Blue Star’s success even more incredible. After just 10 weeks of sessions, program graduates report achieving 35-to 45-percent improvements in anger, anxiety, sleeplessness, nightmares, coping skills and communication.
“After numerous attempts at treatment…I gave up all hope,” recalls one recent graduate. “Then I met the team at Blue Star Ranch and learned about this unique approach to deal with my inner demons.” Like countless others, the army veteran learned to face his fears head on, with the help of his support team – a mental health professional, equine specialist and of course, his therapy horse partner. “I may have trauma forever, but I have learned a lot about how to manage my PTSD,” he continues. “The horses brought and restored hope.”
Unlike many horse-therapy programs, clients don’t ride the horses at Blue Star. Instead, they lead them through a series of exercises designed to improve communication and collaboration skills. “Horses sense emotions and react accordingly,” Nancy says, explaining that those reactions help bring emotional problems to the surface for examination. Perhaps most importantly, the horses give comfort, support and unconditional love. “Animals are some of the best people I know,” she insists.