A new study is showing positive results from a specialized equine therapy program to help members of the military and their families to deal with the impact of post-traumatic stress.

Can Praxis is a national program based in Alberta that was started in March of 2013 for soldiers and their spouses to assist them with the negative effects of service-related PTSD.

“If you have PTSD in your family, two other things show up more than normal. One is crisis and the other is conflict and they both exacerbate all the other terrible symptoms of this injury. And so, that’s why we concentrate at Can Praxis on helping people to resolve conflict and manage crisis,” said Jim Marland, psychologist and equine assisted learning facilitator. “The spouses suffer a tremendous amount and their needs are often as equal to the veterans. We find sometimes that the spouse is now presenting suicidal.”

“Every day I wake up, I’ve got a battle in my mind. It’s very difficult to keep under control, it runs constantly. I deal with anxiety, which is part of the PTSD. There’s days I don’t even want to leave the house,” said veteran Ray Tessier.

The couples walk together with the horses and it helps them recover and regain their relationships and increase their own self-awareness.

“The horses, as you know, are an animal of prey, they’re hunted and so they’re hyper-vigilant,” said Marland. “I’m watching the horse, who’s watching the participants and the horses’ body language, it’s not a criticism, it’s not a judgement, it’s not a diagnosis, it’s an invitation to have a conversation.”

“The communication, the conflict resolution, I’ve learned that I’m not broken, I’ve been wounded,’ said Tessier. “I honestly believe Can Praxis saves lives.”

The horses are sensitive to a person’s body language and facilitators say equine therapy helps participants to understand how their actions affect others.

“Over and over again, they say this has saved our marriage or actually this has saved my life and that’s a very sobering thing to hear and I often give the credit to the psychologists with four legs because they impact these guys lives in a way that I certainly can’t,” Marland adds.

“Renee was blindfolded and I gave her direction, I basically asked her what she needs and the flip side is when I’m blindfolded, I have to tell her what I need and that’s opening up. That’s like, I can’t do this by myself and I need you to guide me,” said veteran Trevor Patterson.

“It’s a huge exercise in trust. You have to trust the other person because you’re completely blindfolded so, and you have to make sure you’re calm so it’s a good way to interact with each other anyways, but this really demonstrates it to you. Makes you realize how important trust and your attitude and demeanor is with each other,” said Renee Patterson.

The program covers everything from airfare to accommodation with help from Wounded Warriors Canada.

“They come from all over the country, desperate and they say things like, we’ve tried everybody we can find to help us, it’s not worked, if this doesn’t work, we’re through, we’re done, we’re finished. So there’s a certain amount of pressure and frequently people are coming in a state of active suicidal desire and so the stakes are high,” said Marland. “I think that we are giving them tools that give them realistic hope of being able to talk enough to resolve their conflicts and their crisis.”

The 40 month study was published in the Canadian Military Journal. Click HERE for more information on the Can Praxis program.