Horse therapy helps local veterans with PTSD

A local program is helping veterans cope with the memories they bring home from the battlefield.

Post-traumatic stress disorder affects up to 20 percent of Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans.

Cindy Ballantyne is a local veteran who has spent years battling depression and non-combat PTSD.

She said a local program with therapy horses is helping her regain her confidence.

“When I get with Roany, I start grooming him and all the thoughts just start melting away,” said Ballantyne.

Since she was paired with Roany, her horse at Hope Therapy, she said she feels better.

“I saw myself thru his eyes, just a regular person, I'm enough, and I haven't felt like that before,” Ballantyne said.

Ballantyne joins other veterans with PTSD in this growing program in Middleburg.

Veterans begin the program by grooming their horse to build a bond.

"For the vets, it reduces their anxiety if they have PTSD," said Becky Davenport, the founder of Hope Therapy. "It's a calming environment they can connect with the horses."

Davenport started the ranch as an occupational therapy program for families.

The nonprofit eventually grew to help veterans.

“Here they can work thru some issues,” said Davenport. “The connection they have with the horse gives them the confidence to develop their relationships in other areas.”

UF Health trauma psychologist David Chesire said programs like Hope Therapy are helpful but PTSD patients should also get traditional counseling.

“As the piece of a bigger picture, it has its place but we are still waiting to see how effective it is,” said Chesire.