In 2016, Shannon Novak opened Sunny Creek Ranch and started Horses for Heroes after seeing the positive effect horses had on her husband, a 20-year veteran of the Air Force. Novak said the team at Sunny Creek Ranch comprises veterans or family members of veterans, and the program is free to any veteran, deployed or not.
“[Veterans] are so used to giving. And that’s why they don’t pay here. They’ve given everything, so this is the least we could do,” Novak said.
The program offers private or small-group therapy, depending on the needs of the individual veteran. Each session at Sunny Creek Ranch has a licensed mental health professional and an equine specialist present.
The therapy sessions at Sunny Creek Ranch differ from a typical therapy session. Horses wander throughout the pasture, and group members have the opportunity to step away to be alone with the horses if they choose, Novak said.
According to the team, Sunny Creek Ranch therapists use metaphors to encourage the veterans to open up and reflect on their issues.
“They come up with the reasoning on their own, and then we just direct it and offer tools about how you would approach that situation differently and different ways to look at the world,” Novak said.
The goal of the Horses for Heroes program is to help veterans discover ways to reconnect, destress and communicate more effectively through the horse-human connection.
“Whenever they smile, that’s our payment,” Knapick said.
Meet the horses
Sunny Creek Ranch has three horses: Sunny, Cheyenne and Honey.
Novak said horses make a wonderful therapy tool because they are sensitive to emotions and pick up on human behaviors and emotions, such as nervousness and stress.
Novak said the Veterans Administration recognizes horse therapy as an effective therapeutic resource for veterans.
“That speaks volumes that even the VA is starting to recognize that this works,” she said.
How horses help
Horses at Sunny Creek Ranch help veterans cope with various kinds of stress. Sessions are geared toward issues such as:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Military sexual trauma
Equines and emotions
Equine therapy helps clients promote emotional growth and understanding on a variety of topics. Sessions can assist with:
- Communication skills
- Civilian adjustment issues
Sunny Creek Ranch
7718 Bryan Lane, Montgomery