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Northeast Kingdom nonprofit helping veterans find stable connections

Published: Sep. 20, 2020 at 9:43 AM EDT
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GUILDHALL, Vt. (WCAX) - When veterans return home from deployment, it’s no secret that readjusting to civilian life can be a challenge for a multitude of reasons.

While there are countless types of therapy available, this week, Elissa Borden took a ride up to the Northeast Kingdom to see mental health professionals, veterans and horses, all working toward a stable connection.

Tucked away in the Northeast Kingdom, just on the cusp of New Hampshire, is a nonprofit ponying up to help veterans in need.

“It’s not horse training, it’s using different ground-based activities to help them individually and then as a group so they can transition a little bit easier," says Karen Guile-Caron, the CEO and founder of Stable Connections.

It’s therapeutic, but not in a traditional way.

“Horses are very in tune with emotion. You could stand there and say, ‘Oh, I feel great,’ but the horses can sense what’s really going on inside. So for the horse to want to be near you or in part with you or want to do an activity with you, you have to change how you’re feeling inside for that to happen," said Guile-Caron.

“It’s amazing how the horse is so in tuned to the emotions, the energy that we put out," said Air Force veteran Matt Wells. “It caused me to really reflect as to why they were feeling that tension, what is it in me that they were seeing?”

This eight-week veterans program is the only Eagala certified program in northern Vermont and northern New Hampshire, an area with a lot of financial and emotional need.

“When transitioning out of the service, it’s a huge shock to the system. It’s never an easy transition when all you’ve known, for 21 years in my case, is military life," Wells said.

“When we’re talking about veterans, we have a high population of veterans in both Vermont and New Hampshire that commit suicide,” said Guile-Caron.

This is why in 2009, Stable Connections set out to provide education, physical and emotional growth using equine therapy.

Andrea Willey is a mental health professional working at the barn, and she says what you get out of the program is different for everyone.

Exercises can range from focusing on hard-to-handle emotions to making changes and setting goals.

And with many mental health services moved online, it provides a certain element that telehealth may not be able to provide.

“Having the support of other people around you and getting that camaraderie and that other horse support, the human support at the same time, that’s where the group exercises really come in," says Willey, who is certified in equine-assisted psychotherapy.

Allowing participants to keep a safe distance, but still let their guard down and rein in transition anxiety.

Stable Connections is not limited to veterans programs, they have something for people from all backgrounds.

They’re also hoping to bring in mental health professionals who could use some therapy themselves in the future.

You can learn more about their work here.

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