When HAH was founded in 2014 in response to the large number of suicides of military members returning from combat (22 per day according to a 2013 study by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs), the mission was to help heal combat veterans and active duty service members who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Military Sexual Trauma (MST), and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) by offering a 5-day program of recreational equine (horse) and piscatorial (fly-fishing/fly-tying) therapies in the peaceful and calming environment of beautiful rural Chama, NM, at no cost to participants.
HAH fully understands that combat veterans and active duty service members in rural NM who have PTSD, MST or TBI have in most cases, not transitioned back to civilian life in a positive way. The VA can only do so much, and often traditional therapies do not help the veteran return to a “normal” life. Therefore, HAH implements its mission by providing an alternative and innovative approach to healing. Through the interaction with horses, the veterans experience a calming of their mind and body. They also develop a close and harmonious relationship with another living being. They often find it easy to talk with their horse while grooming, hand grazing or just walking or riding around together. Walking/riding around in the natural environment encourages the release of trauma that’s been stored in the body. These experiences transfer over to their everyday life, help re-establish relationships, control anger through self-calming, and restore confidence. HAH also offers fly-fishing and fly-tying. Fly fishing teaches focus, patience and perseverance. Being in nature on the water allows the veteran to experience calmness and peace of mind. Fly Fishing, healing the whole person, one cast at a time. Fly-tying is a well-developed art of making an intricate fly with feathers and hair of fascinating colors and textures. It requires concentration and mindfulness, paying attention to details, and coordination of the mind and body (hands) to produce a beautiful fly that gives the fly-tier a sense of accomplishment. Tying flies is like a meditation and these skills can carry over into other aspects of their life.
The HAH program is guided and supervised by NM veterans from various branches of the military and the majority are combat veterans who can relate to and communicate well with the participating veterans and Armed Services members. A NM licensed mental health professional is also available throughout the program. This peer-to-peer relationship is important to build trust so that participants in the program can relax and enjoy the learning experience. When participants take this positive experience home, they can continue to enjoy these adaptive sports and recreational activities and nurture a positive environment within their families. By offering this project, HAH helps improve the health equity of NM veterans (both male and female), increase their confidence in seeking employment; prevent, reduce, and ultimately minimize, the suicide rate of our returning warriors.
The effectiveness of this HAH program has led to requests for expanding the HAH service to law enforcement personnel, fire fighters, and first responders who are suffering from similar disabilities. HAH is working to add this service in the near future.