Equine-assisted therapy helps veterans transition to life after combat

A Chester County nonprofit organization is helping veterans transition to life after combat with help from some unlikely four-legged creatures.

Equine-assisted psychotherapy allows returning veterans to spend time and create bonds with horses. Set against the peaceful backdrop of Malvern, Pa., Gateway Horseworks is one such farm offering the treatment.

Tom Thorpe, a 10 year veteran of the Marines, says equine-assisted psychotherapy helped him relearn how to trust people and build relationships.

"If you weren’t in my unit then I didn’t care much for you or about anything or even developing new relationships was pretty terrible at," said Thorpe. "Trusting the horse allowed me to get to the point to start to trust people to work on relationships and better myself that way."

Thorpe, who went on three tours in Iraq, says his wife first suggested equine therapy. Day-by-day, Tom improved.

"If you would have told me this years ago I might have thought it was voodoo magic or something," Thorpe said. "But I can't explain it. It has a way of working."

Thorpe isn't alone, several other veterans are finding comfort in equine therapy.

"The clean slate is everything to the client," Executive Director of Gateway Horseworks Kristen De Marco said. "Having a horse just walk up to them and approach them is something that they don't get in other areas of their life."

Thorpe is now the barn manager and equine specialist at Gateway, working to help other solders return home.

"I just took a chance. That is how horses’ kind of changed my life for the better. Now it is my everyday job and I am able to return that favor," Thorpe said.