Horses Get Injured Soldiers Back in the Saddle

ByJAKE TAPPER via via logo

Sept. 26, 2006 — -- Returning to everyday life has been a struggle for Army Spc. Nick Paupore, ever since he was wounded in Iraq by an improvised explosive device in July.

Paupore is one of more than 450 American soldiers who have lost limbs in the Iraq war.

Now he's getting help from an unlikely source -- a horse named Arabiis.

Several times a week, Paupore visits Arabiis at Fort Myer Army Base in Virginia for a groundbreaking new program for amputees -- therapeutic horseback riding.

"Once you start riding, you realize that the horse works with you and that if you relax it will relax, and you kinda become one with the horse," Paupore said.

Another injured veteran, Spc. Natasha McKinnon, says her horse, Minnie, has been patient with her, and the therapy has paid off.

"When I get up on the horse, I feel like I have two legs. I don't think about the injury," McKinnon said. "I feel that I can do what I normally do. I think good thoughts, like I'm free."

The servicemen and women in the program say that horseback riding helps them exercise muscles that haven't been used in some time.

It helps them with balance, and also helps them to recreate the motions of walking, which many of them have not done in months.

"Horses have the closest gait to humans," said Cpl. Michael Blair, who works with a horse named Mickey. "I definitely started walking on my own a lot more since I've been riding a horse."

The horses also seem to help ease the psychological pain of the soldiers' injuries.

"You feel like a cowboy out in the open terrain just riding around, even though you have three guys helping you," Paupore said. "It seems like they are part of the horse. It's wonderful. It clears your mind. You forget about everything, and you just kinda ride on into the sunset."

The horses are normally used for military funerals at Arlington National Cemetery.

The trainers say they can tell from how tender they are to the veterans that Arabiis, Mickey and Minnie appreciate their new detail.

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