Memorial Day, Monday May 30, is all about honoring those who lost their lives while defending America. Loss of life is, of course, the ultimate sacrifice, but it’s not the only one. Injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder are among the afflictions affecting many who survive military service, including those who continue in active duty.
The horse health company, Haygain, is honoring all who serve and sacrifice this Memorial Day by donating a portion of U.S. sales to Cornerstone Equine Therapy Center. The facility in San Diego is dedicated to saving and restoring the lives of active-duty service members, veterans and first responders.
The donations will be made on purchases of Haygain’s High Temperature Hay Steamers, the Forager Slow Feeder, ComfortStall Sealed Orthopedic Flooring and accessories — starting Monday May 23 through Memorial Day, May 30. To promote awareness and encourage additional donations, Haygain offers a 5% discount on its science-backed horse health products: Hay Steamers and the Forager — during the same period. (The code is “MEMORIAL5”)
Serving Unique Needs
Cornerstone Therapeutic Equine Center was founded in 2007 as an equine therapy program serving children, youth and adults with physical, cognitive and emotional special needs. The program’s commitment to service members began in 2008 when Cornerstone was invited to participate in a pilot program designed to identify and address the needs of wounded, ill and injured military personnel.
With bases for the Marine Corps, Navy and Coast Guard within its boundaries, San Diego County has a large community of active-duty military and veterans. “In the early stages of the pilot program we learned that San Diego has one of the highest populations of wounded service members in the country,” explains Cornerstone founder Judy Beckett. “In addition, we found there is a tremendous need for alternative therapies that are non-clinical, non-pharmaceutical and non-psychiatric.”
While continuing to work with the broad population, the experiences and challenges of the military community became clear as distinct from those of civilians. In 2017, Cornerstone turned its focus exclusively to the military.
The remarkable results that emerged from ongoing research begun that year helped inspire Cornerstone’s focus. These included a 92% decrease in suicidal thoughts; a 94% decrease in depression; and a 91% decrease in stress and anxiety among those participating in its equine assisted therapy.
“There are many programs in the area that do a great job with kids and others with special needs,” Judy explains. “We happen to be really good at the specialized services that benefit those with military-related PTSD.”
Certified by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, Cornerstone became the first equine therapy enterprise in San Diego County to stand up programs specifically for service members. “We felt we could best serve our country by serving them,” Judy explains.
PTSD, suicidal ideations, depression, anxiety, fear, survivor’s guilt, anger, paranoia and loss of a limb are a few of the conditions for which the Cornerstone team is trained to help its clients. Support for family members and care givers is also available, and frontline medical worker COVID fatigue was added to the roster of conditions addressed in 2020.
Horses As Helpers
Horses are often described as great therapists even for those never exposed to severe physical and/or mental trauma. For the huge percentage of military members who’ve been exposed to either and often both, horses can be true miracle workers.
Most of Cornerstone’s good work happens during non-mounted sessions with therapy horses – including Minis. The therapeutic work overlaps significantly with various forms of natural horsemanship training. Establishing trust, interpreting non-verbal cues and emphasizing cooperation over force are training tenets with endless benefits for the participating human.
Cornerstone’s PATH-certified coaches and its many volunteers witness the healing power of horses every day. “Sometimes within even just two hours, we’ll see someone literally transform from a very dark space to a place they didn’t believe they’d know again,” Judy shares. “We have clients tell us they didn’t know they could feel this good again; that their body pain goes away when they’re with horses; that their migraine has gone away.”
While on-site work at its Encinitas base stopped during the COVID shut-downs, the Cornerstone team found ways to continue. “We knew there would be a spike in depression, stress, anxiety and, sadly, suicide, in the populations we serve, as well as frontline medical workers,” Judy recounts. “That was our call to action.”
Investing in portable corrals, safety cones, and personal protective equipment for their coaches and volunteers, Cornerstone took its services to those in need: specifically, the Naval Medical Center San Diego and its Resiliency Support Command and Suicide Prevention Center.
Little Horses: Big Results
Miniature Horses have been special emissaries in on-site and off-site work. “A lot of the men and women we serve are afraid of full-size horses,” Judy explains. “Because one of our goals is to bring down anxiety levels, we have everybody start with our Minis. They halter them, lead them, learn to read their body language and to communicate with them in non-verbal ways.
“And the Minis often make our clients laugh,” Judy continues. “The ability to laugh is a key component in recovery. The Minis have actually been extraordinary for us.” Even since the pandemic eased, the Cornerstone Minis have continued visiting the Naval Medical Center for regular sessions.
Over 600 frontline medical workers and hospital staff have participated in Cornerstone sessions since September of 2020. Since its inception, Cornerstone has helped over 3,000 members of the military, through programs that range from a few months to a few years.
Big or small, the Cornerstone horses have an immeasurable impact. “Other therapies weren’t working,” stated a U.S. Navy Lt. Commander. “I was lost, hopeless, suicidal, and didn’t know where to turn. The horses changed my life: actually gave me my life back. They were a path to recovery that I never thought was possible. I will be forever grateful for the horses and Cornerstone.”
Activities are back in full swing at Cornerstone’s headquarters in Encinitas and future plans include expanding to offer services at the Del Mar Horsepark near the coast.
Haygain is proud to support Cornerstone Equine Therapy Center’s work. To learn more about and support the 501(C)3 charitable organization, visit Cornerstone. To learn more about Haygain’s High Temperature Hay Steamers, the Forager Slow Feeder and ComfortStall Sealed Orthopedic Flooring, visit Haygain and enter the code “MEMORIAL5” to receive the discount on Hay Steamers and the Forager at check-out.