‘A Fuller Life’ For Veterans

Equine Therapy Nonprofit Hosts Family Day
Daily News-Record  9/30/19
TIMBERVILLE — For decades, Spence White kept his anger, anxiety and stress deep inside his mind.
The 69-year-old Vietnam veteran didn’t talk about the fighting or foreign lands or the way he and other soldiers were treated when they returned from combat.
“I was a bundle of knots,” said the Marine, who served from 1968 to 1975. Those knots started to loosen about four years ago, when he met Trish Lynch. She introduced him to Breaking Free, an equine therapy program located on a farm on Strooptown Road near Timberville.
White was among dozens of people to attend the organization’s Family Fun Day on Saturday.
Paul and Jenny Foltz started the nonprofit in 2010 to provide equine therapy services to veterans and at-risk youth from social services dealing with anger, depression, anxiety, grief, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse and relationship issues.
Breaking Free is certified through the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association. The staff and volunteers use the EAGALA model’s Equine Assisted Learning and Equine Assisted Psychotherapy.
The sessions at Breaking Free are all on the ground, with no riding involved. The clients pet horses, guide them around a ring and play games.
They can choose from 18 horses, a miniature horse, two donkeys, and a mule, which allows them to form their own special bonds.
Lynch, a licensed clinical social worker, was working as a contract employer for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in 2012 when she first learned about Breaking Free.
She now works for the nonprofit.
Lynch said horses bring out the truth in people.
“There’s so much we can learn about ourselves,” she said. “Horses are honest. They read people very well and provide immediate feedback.”
After learning about Breaking Free, Lynch started sending the veterans she counseled to the farm.
“It’s hard to sit in a room face-to-face with someone and share what you’re going through,” she said. “But when they are with horses, people tend to start to relax more and their story tends to unfold,” she said.
Since Lynch started, 75 local veterans have gone through the Breaking Free program. In addition, the Wounded Warrior Project has brought about another 50 veterans from Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia for weekend trips.
Travis Coyle, 35, of Runions Creek, was one of the local veterans who sought support at Breaking Free.
The Army veteran served six months in Afghanistan in 2010.
He said the horses taught him how to deal with his emotions.
“The more excited you get, the more excited they get,” he said. “It
forces you to take control of your emotions and remain calm.”
Coyle has since teamed up with fellow veteran Mark Lambert, 33, of Harrisonburg, to create the Living Waters Farm Initiative, a farm on Runions Creek Road that helps veterans through farming.
Lynch said many veterans have found peace through Breaking Free.
“It’s so rewarding to see people start to blossom and experience a fuller life,” she said.
White is among Lynch’s success stories.
“I was able to work through some of the problems I was having,” White said. “I was pissed off. The horses were able to help get over a lot of the anger I had.”