John Zanella knows all too well the struggles many veterans face. During his lengthy military career, the 20-year Army veteran suffered numerous physical injuries, several traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“It was only through a therapeutic riding program that I found the will to keep fighting,” he recalls. Now John strives to bring those same benefits to other veterans through the non-profit he founded, Victory Therapeutic Horsemanship (VTH).
“In many cases, participants have an easier time interacting with animals than they do with their fellow man,” John explains. “Bonds and trust are often easier to form with an animal that has no bias or judgement.” However, while the work starts on the back of a horse, the positive effects extend far beyond the farm gate.
Studies have repeatedly shown that therapeutic riding offers significant benefits for combat veterans struggling with PTSD, TBI and other physical injuries. VTH volunteer Rebecca Davison admits that using equine therapy with veterans is still relatively new, but says the effects are “profound, immediate and lasting.” She adds: “People may not fully understand the concept, but our program not only transforms the veteran’s life, but the lives of those around him or her.”
The central Pennsylvania program is one of the few such organizations in the nation to serve veterans exclusively. For John, it was a natural decision. “I know firsthand the advantages of these programs,” he says. “Now I can bring my experiences as a disabled vet, rider, program volunteer and instructor to my peers.”