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Horses for Heroes Program Looking For Military Vets

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NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – So many who have served this country sometimes come home with physical, mental, emotional, and even neurological problems. Help is sometimes out there, but not easy to find.

On this Veterans Day, CBS 11 News has discovered $250,000 in grant money, and a proven equine therapy program in Tarrant County, begging for veterans to take advantage.

“I feel like I’m a lot stronger, than I was when I started,” said Chris Orahood

Orahood is among the first U.S. military veterans to take advantage of the Horses for Heroes Program at the Rocky Top Equine Therapy Center in Keller.

“I’m just trying to stand and work the muscles in my legs I guess,” Orahood said of his desired progress.

In addition to his muscles being challenged by the rigors of the military Orahood’s body is also being beat down by multiple sclerosis.

Orahood was diagnosed with MS in 2003, just four years into what was supposed to be a lifelong Air Force career. He now spends most of his life in a wheelchair.

Getting the diagnosis was tough. “I cried. I was really upset about it,” Orahood remembered. “My wife was the strong one, and helped me get through my depression. In the beginning it just felt like my world ended.”

In Rocky Top’s Horses for Heroes Program, Orahood gets challenging and targeted physical therapy and it’s all done on the back of a horse.

“With Chris, I’m really trying to build core, we start there first,” said physical therapist Suzanne Sessums. “You kind of have to build that before you move on to legs and arms and build their strength.”

Each 30-minute session is designed to build a bond between horse and rider.

Physical core strength is built through movements like arm stretches, and reaching and placing rings on the arms of two men, who walk alongside in a silent, but significant role.

Those ‘sidewalkers’ aren’t the average volunteers. Sessums explained that they too once served their country.

“We are trying to build this program where we can have veteran volunteers, actually come in and work with all our veterans that we see at the therapy center.”

In June, Mike Hogg, the executive director of Rocky Top Therapy Services, secured $300,000 in grant money from the Texas Veterans Commission.

“What the grant gave us was the ability to expand our physical and psychological services, and provide assistance to vets and their families, which is something that is very rare, in that a program addresses the entire family unit,” Hogg said.

Family involvement was a big appeal for Orahood, whose daughter joins him at every session. He says it gives them quality time together, away from the stress of his limitations at home.

“I’m not the same as I was before, going for a walk is a big effort, going to the car, a big effort.”

Horses for Heroes therapy will address anything from battle injuries, to combat stress, to PTSD. What the program can’t fix is the love of a life of service to country that has been cut short.

While Chris Orahood was able to serve in the Air Force for seven years after his diagnosis he said, “It bothers me that I’m not there. I really loved being in the military.”

At last check, the Horses for Heroes Program at Rocky Top Therapy Services had $250,000 left in its one-year grant. The money is distributed on a use-it-or-lose-it basis and will expire in June 2012. Any U.S. military veteran, who may benefit from the equine therapy program, is encouraged to contact them.

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