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Faculty Complete a Second Offering of the Heart of Horsemanship Program for Veterans Village of San Diego (VVSD)

Wranglers and Horses Help Veterans Heal

Many veterans face problems associated with transitioning from military to civilian life. There is a need for more integrative health approaches that treat the psychosocial and embodied aspects of combat veterans “re-booting” into civilian life. One approach includes horsemanship training to help veterans better empower themselves both physically and mentally.  This approach was developed into the Heart of Horsemanship (HOH), an eight-week horsemanship program with combat veterans living in a residential treatment facility.  The hope is that the program could improve quality of life indicators and the stress response of participants. The program is the focus of SHHS faculty member Dr. Ellen Kaye Gehrke's current research and community outreach featured before in the school's blog.

Dr. Kaye Gehrke was joined this fall by fellow SHHS faculty members Peggy Ranke and Michael Myers and College of Letters and Sciences (COLS) faculty member Jessica Jimenez to wrap up work running and analyzing the effectiveness of a second offering of the Heart of Horsemanship (HOH) program.  The eight week program worked with veterans from Veterans Village of San Diego (VVSD) and was run at the Rolling Horse Ranch in Ramona, California.  

The first run of the HOH program was a great success and was featured in the Ramona Sentinel. That program and part of the second were presented in November at the 143rd APHA Annual Meeting and at the annual meeting of the AIHM.  That work also involved faculty member Suzanne Evans from the Sanford College of Education (SCOE). The work reached across the community, the school (Dr. Myers and Dr. Kaye Gehrke are in the department of health sciences while Instructor Ranke is in the community health department) and the University (Dr. Jimenez is in the psychology department in COLS and Dr. Evans is in the SCOE ).   

The inter-professional team found a significant increase in self-esteem and a reduction in irritability after the horsemanship sessions. Heart rate variability (HRV) analysis showed a clear increase in HRV during and immediately after the sessions further indicating that the program improved overall health.  The research presentation was made possible in part by a Presidential Scholars Award and is available here.  

Dr. Kaye Gehrke is head of the SHHS Center of Excellence Integrative Health core and is also launching a new master’s program in Complementary and Integrative Healthcare.  You can follow the new program here on Twitter.


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