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Equine therapy at Horses4Heroes in Las Vegas saves a veteran

When Penny met Daisy

Like many combat veterans in his situation, Travis Flowers spent years after returning from war suffering from post-traumatic stress. Yet when Travis meets a special lady named Penny, he falls in love and begins his journey into healing and helping others like him.

They called him Daisy

They called him “Daisy” in his platoon because of his last name. Travis Flowers wanted to be a Marine since first setting eyes on a soldier in his dress greens standing at attention at a war memorial. Soldiers often tease each other to help make the weight of war not feel so heavy. As part of their training mixed with military culture, Marines employ other strategies to cope with being deployed in a combat zone.

They push down fear, and pain, and need to avoid weakness and the perception of weakness, not only to accomplish their mission but also to prove their reliability in combat. But after returning home as civilians, what used to look like weakness instantly morphs into the most vital skill for survival at home: asking for help.

The stigma and stronghold of mental illness

Which is worse? The fear of looking weak or the shame of seeming crazy. The culture of toxic masculinity might be the instigator of fear, but the real terror happens alone in the mind of trauma survivors.

Often caught in a biological cycle of fight, flight, freeze, or faun, people who have experienced a life-threatening situation cannot enjoy the freedom they once knew. With surges of adrenaline and cortisol, the body becomes fatigued and is unable to cope with even the daily tasks of simply living or getting out of bed in the morning. The unique cocktail of shame and trauma can hold even the strongest Marine captive.

Travis’s survival

Travis was no exception. The human body is designed to respond to threats, and no one is immune. Travis found himself discharged for injuries and just like that his life dream was ended. Beyond the grief of a dream lost, Travis was bombarded with thoughts that would not leave him alone. His heart would race, his palms would sweat, his body would start to tremble. He struggled to quiet his mind long enough to fall asleep. Eventually, it was easier just to stay at home in bed.

If he was forced to leave the house, Travis began using alcohol and drugs to cope, finally turning on himself and attempting suicide. This cycle happened three times before Travis finally understood that he needed to ask for help. The day after he left rehab Travis showed up at Horses4Heroes ranch. Help came in the form of a horse.

The outside of a horse

A former president once stated, “There’s just something about the outside of a horse that’s good for the inside of a man.” According to Libby Bugl, an equine-assisted learning instructor at Horses4Heroes, there is good evidence to support that claim. Equine therapy or other mental health treatments that use horses has been proven to be effective for calming the central nervous system, connecting to something outside of the mind, and building the trust back between yourself and others.

Horses for heroes and heroes for horses

While their love story began the first day Travis showed up at the ranch, Penny — whose official name is #PennySaved — has been a favorite at Horses4Heroes since she was born. Sydney Knott, founder and CEO of Horses4Heroes says that Penny's birth was traumatic. Then, after losing her mother, Penny's training has had consistent interruptions, never giving her the opportunity to bond with another, horse or human.

On a tour of the ranch, Sydney introduced Travis to Penny. After hearing her story, Travis instantly felt a tug toward her. He showed up daily after that to muck stalls and groom the horses and attend free group classes with other veterans and trauma survivors. But he came to spend time with one strawberry roan mere. His new mission was to help Penny find her legs, and in doing so, he found his own. Just as instantly as Travis fell out of the military, he fell in love with Penny. And Penny found her person.

Giving is getting

It is often said that it is more of a blessing to give than to receive. And while we may all nod our heads in agreement, mostly we only believe that to be true if everyone else around us believes it also. Doing good by giving his time and daily devotion to Penny, Travis gained back the sense of purpose that he had lost, a quiet place inside himself, and a community to help him through his struggles. And Penny gained a friend for life.

A lot of our veterans have trust issues. A lot of veterans feel like everybody is judging them for what they did or didn’t do or something in the service. These animals do not do that. They do not judge you."

- Sydney Knott, Horses4Heroes, Founder and CEO

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