ANIMALS

Caisson Platoon Equine Assisted Program helps wounded warriors

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As he stands at a horse’s side, Army Staff Sgt. Adam Porras finally feels relief.

Whether he has a headache or feels depressed, Porras, one of the wounded warriors at Fort Belvoir, finds grooming the horse calms him down. After suffering a traumatic brain injury, he's one of the injured veterans at Fort Belvoir taking hold of the reins.

Instead of a confined exam room, the Caisson Platoon Equine Assisted Program meets on 10 acres of serenity.

“It's completely different than going to physical therapy at the hospital,” Staff Sgt. Richard Waugaman, a wounded warrior. “It eases the pain for while I'm here. And when I leave it's all back again.”

Members of the "old guard" who pull the Caisson for full-honor funerals at Arlington National Cemetery are the instructors.

“As they gain more confidence with the horse, we find that it improves their own self-confidence and I think probably their own feelings of self-worth,” says retired commander Sgt. Maj. Larry Pence, the program’s co-founder.

And the 1,200-pound animals, specially trained for this program, have a way of putting these at times anxious soldiers at ease.

Since launching in 2006, this program has helped hundreds of wounded warriors and inspired more than 100 horse-therapy programs for veterans nationwide.

“They (horses) won't look at you like you're weird or anything,” Porras says. “They just love you being there.”

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