In a cosy barn on the outskirts of Kyiv, equine-assisted treatment is being offered to Ukrainian soldiers to promote their physical and mental health as they come off the battlefield.
The company providing the hippotherapy has developed a programme called Spirit Warrier in a bid to reduce stress.
The centre’s founder, psychologist Ganna Burago, said the soldiers she works with are taking a break from the front in Kyiv but will return after.
“They’ve seen a lot of things that may have caused them post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We don’t diagnose them here but their psycho-emotional state is very complicated,” she said.
PTSD can affect people who have been in conflict situations, causing them to involuntarily relive moments of emotional stress.
Simply being with animals gives them a chance to see and think about something else.
“Our work is focused on lowering that stress, so that the person can relax and so that something else can enter the brain and create a new perception of reality,” Burago explained.
What is involved?
In the initial stages, the rider chooses an animal and then the troops mount their horses and ride in circles with helpers beside them.
Then they are told to lie forward and clasp the horses round the neck, stroking them.
They finally learn to take the reins and briefly break into a trot.
“For me, today’s session had a calming effect. What feelings I’ll have later, in the evening, I’ll see,” said one 51-year-old participant.
“You get exercise and some kind of psychologically unburdening from horses because a horse is a healer,” he added.
“It’s a completely different atmosphere, the contact with the animals, you talk about yourself, you share your emotions, your experiences. It’s pretty cool and it recharges you for the future,” said another soldier named Oleg.
He explained that he was on his second visit and brought along two soldiers from his unit after recommending it to them.
“When you’re not on the front line, you try to entertain yourself, do something all the time,” he said.
“While you’re doing that, the thoughts and anxieties you might have experienced over there directly while you were doing combat missions, don’t torture you.”