Horses help PTSD victims

3:19 PM, Nov 8, 2012   |    comments
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ELIZABETH, Col. (KUSA) - John Nash is caring for a horse named Rain - who Nash says saved his life.

Horses are nothing new to Nash. He grew up on a farm in North Minnesota where he trained them the old fashioned way: He broke them.

"We broke their spirit. That's where the phrase breaking a horse comes from, from breaking their spirit," Nash said.

Life and war would eventually lead Nash from his farm in Minnesota to the jungles of Vietnam.

A Specialist 5th Class with the 1st Cavalry, Nash volunteered to serve in the U.S.
Army.

He did a one year deployment in Vietnam.

During that year he lived the realities of war.

The 19-year-old soldier, who grew up breaking horses, in the end, had the same thing done to him - by war.

Nash was haunted by what he had experienced in Vietnam, but worst of all for him was living with one question.

Why had he survived when so many of his friends had not?

"Was I broken? Yeah, I was broken bad," Nash said. "I was broken to the point of total hopelessness."

The hopelessness manifested itself in the form of post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

In 1967 little was known about PTSD and even less was offered in the form of treatment.

John Nash and other veterans were left to deal with the demons on their own.

"Day after day after day it was the same thing, self medicate, go through all the misery and the flashbacks and the nightmares and the depression and anxiety and all the other issues, the anger and the rage," Nash said.

With his life in a downward spiral and thoughts of ending that life, maybe it was fate that brought to his life a horse named Rain.

"I wouldn't be here without that horse," Nash said.

Nash purchased Rain at an auction as a gift for his wife.

The horse had come from a ranch in Kansas where, just like Nash, it had been broken.

"She had been mistreated. She was traumatized," Nash said. "Maybe that is why we became good friends. She had gone through some pretty traumatic stuff and so have I."

Unable to cope with the PTSD Nash remembers a turning point in his life.

Late one night he came home after a hard night of drinking and passed out in the barn.

"That horse would nose me and kind of shake me a little bit and woke me up," Nash said. "She was actually protecting me so I didn't do something stupid like commit suicide or something. That horse literally saved my life."

Rain not only saved John Nash's life, it gave him a reason to live.

Nash found a peace when working with the horse that had been taken from him in Vietnam.

"He went to that horse and that horse seemed to give him comfort that he couldn't get anywhere else," said Jackie Nash, John's wife.

The gentleness Rain showed to John Nash changed him.

He began again to work with horses, but instead of breaking them he trained them with the same gentle touch that Rain had shown him.

"It is trust the horse a little bit and the horse says, ok I guess I'm going to trust you a little bit," Nash said.

It was then that Nash realized the gentling, calm and peace he had found in horses could help other veterans dealing with PTSD.

In 2008 he created a nonprofit program, Combat Veterans Cowboy Up that offers equine assisted psychotherapy to veterans.

"I came out and instantly had a mutual respect with John Nash because he's a veteran. He is one of us and he's been through it and he's got the biggest heart," said Billy Speer, a Navy veteran who did two tours of duty in Iraq.

Speer worked as part of a bomb squad investigating and diffusing road side bombs.

"We were in the kill zone a lot," Speer said. "It is a tough job. It is one of the most strenuous jobs."

While Speer and Nash served in conflicts separated by more than five decades, both share the invisible scars of war.

"The traumas are the same even though we're different generations, we're different wars, and we're different countries. It is all the same. War is the same no matter where it is," Nash said.

And Billy Speer and other veterans with PTSD who have participated in Combat Veterans Cowboy Up have experienced the same positive results John Nash saw.

Each week groups of servicemen and women meet at Nash's ranch east of Elizabeth to participate in therapy sessions.

Speer says you can see the change the program has on the participants.

"You see these people come here, just complete ghosts, shadows of themselves and within weeks they're just filled with so much strength," Speer said.

Combat Veterans Cowboy Up offers the equine assisted psychotherapy sessions for veterans with PTSD free of charge.

The program is completely funded through donations.

Nash hopes to one day expand the program and offer it to veterans throughout this country.

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