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Middle Tennessee veterans getting help from equine therapy

FOX 17 News
FOX 17 News
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When you're trying to rebuild your life, sometimes it's hard to know where to start. One Nashville military veteran is riding his way to recovery after hitting rock bottom more than once.

Joshua Justice will tell you he’s been trying to get back up on the horse of life so to speak. Justice takes each seemingly mundane step, prepping and grooming, Hunner the horse at PATH International for Heroes in Oak Hill.

Each time he takes the reins, he takes back a piece of his life. He explains, “I'm starting to get acclimated back to society.”

An army veteran with one tour in Korea, Justice says his service combined with a family crisis while he was away caused him to break. He's suffered mentally, losing his marriage and abusing alcohol and prescription meds to cope.

Justice adds, “I love my country. It's a sacrifice no matter what you do and sometimes the effects aren't physical.”

He's been sober 7 months. This specialized equine therapy forces him to communicate and manage his emotions and engage in a non threatening way with the world around him.

Justice adds, “I had a tendency to isolate myself and I noticed that and I didn't want to interact with other people unless they were veterans.”

Curt Stacy, a PATH Certified Instructor explains, “It can cause break ups of marriages. It can cause families being torn apart and it can cause God forbid have them go down a dark path such as suicide.”

Justice admits he thought about that too explaining, “I don't know how to describe ya know. I just felt out of place and this is making it a little easier for me.”

The VA says more than 20 veterans a day do take their own lives. The instruction is very specific for PTSD and other combat trauma and now, the very first clinical study on equine therapy for veterans is underway at Columbia University. The Man O War project verifies mental improvement by a brain MRI on veterans.

Stacy adds, “If you can learn how to communicate with an animal you can carry that over into everyday life.”

Justice explains, “I didn't expect it to affect me the way it has. It has relaxed me a lot.”

Stacy says it really makes him feel like what he’s doing matters.

As he puts Hunner back in the stall, he's already looking forward to next week's therapy. Stacy explains,”He walks out with a smile on his face and he says that carries him over into the full week.”

Justice laughs saying, “I feel like that country song, I should have been a cowboy.”

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Justice has a scholarship for these therapy sessions through December. You can learn more about the equine therapy on the campus of First Presbyterian Church in Oak Hill at this link.

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