Downstate ranch gives veterans non-traditional PTSD therapy

For military veterans, particularly those who have been injured or wounded in combat, coming home has not always been the end of their war. Local vets will soon have help finding a peace they can live with.

Untold thousands of men and women from every war have fought their own battles over and over again in the form of nightmares, flashbacks, depression, paranoia, anxiety or an inability to sleep.

We now recognize what is commonly known as post-traumatic stress disorder, a catch-all diagnosis that covers a huge range of problems for veterans and others who have suffered severe trauma.

Recognition of what PTSD really is and how widely it has affected veterans is still relatively new, however, and people who brought their wartime experiences home from other wars – Vietnam, Korea and the World Wars – often went the rest of their life suffering in silence or with the support of only their family and closest friends.

Finding understanding and help from the wider community – and even from the Veterans Administration and the federal government – was pretty much unknown to those men and women.

Today, there’s more and more help for vets, some from non-traditional sources, like Reining Liberty Ranch southwest of Traverse City, where veterans and their families will be able to tap into some unusual kinds of help – like therapeutic horseback riding, a veteran’s garden and educational programming – or just be able to connect with other veterans.

The ranch is the brainchild of Traverse City residents Becky and Dennis Bigelow, who spent their own money to purchase property and a farmhouse for the ranch.

During what she called a “rough period” in her life, Becky had seen firsthand the therapeutic benefits of spending time with a horse.

“I was able to form a relationship with that horse when I could not form one with anyone else,” she said.

Horse therapy has been widely recognized as an effective alternative for children with Asperger’s syndrome, autism and emotional and behavioral problems.

While the “why” – as in why it works – still seems unclear, the results have been noted for helping many children cope.

Making that kind of therapy available to local vets, in a calm and supportive setting where they can talk with fellow veterans facing similar problems, could be a godsend.

Becky Bigelow and dozens of volunteers, including active-duty Coast Guard members, are working to get Reining Liberty Ranch fully operational by March or April. While the aim includes honoring veterans for their military service, it’s also about “helping them move back to society,” she said.

That’s better and more lasting than any parade.