Gordnier and Winston exercise inside the riding ring as the manager of Dreamcatchers, Melissa Conner, looks on.
A group of riders heads out Thursday morning. Horseback has been proven to be therapeutic for the mind and the body.
In addition to riding, caring for the horses before and after a ride is part of the experience.
Emily Gordnier gives Winston a big hug to say thanks.
Summary: Fort Eustis military members and veterans turn to therapeutic horseback riding at Dreamcatchers in Toano, which helps heal bodies and minds
For generations, American soldiers depended on horses to carry them into battle.
Their combat service dates from the Revolutionary War to the 1940s, when they charged against modern tanks in a desperate bid to drive the Japanese from Bataan.
Today, the military has harnessed that strength in a new way, embracing therapeutic riding to heal bodies and minds of U.S. troops in the Horses for Heroes program.
Spc. Emily Gordnier of Fort Eustis counts herself lucky to be among the first recruits in Hampton Roads.
For the past several weeks, Gordnier has traveled from Newport News to a grassy 22-acre site north of Williamsburg, the home of Dreamcatchers at the Cori Sikich Therapeutic Riding Center.
There she meets her caregiver, a gentle giant named Winston whose skill as a Tennessee Walking Horse means as much as any medical degree.
Gordnier not only rides Winston, she cares for him before and after her session.
"He's very mild, very relaxed," she said, brushing him in the stable. "It's a wonderful feeling, knowing that he knows me, he knows my voice."
Gordnier injured her back and both feet during a training accident while serving in Korea. It was so serious that she thought she might never walk again.
But she has found comfort in Winston and his rhythmic rocking motion.
"It's very soothing - stress free," she said. "Even though I can't run, when I get on the horse, it's like he's my feet."
That gait is one strength of therapeutic riding, said Nancy Paschall, executive director of Dreamcatchers. The rider must focus on balance and posture and use all muscle groups while in the saddle. It is deceptively difficult.
"It mimics the human walking gait," she said.
It helps not only with physical injuries, but with troops overcoming traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.
"It's great for traumatic brain injury because you are doing all kinds of different things at the same time," she said. "It helps push distracting thoughts out of your head. PTSD is, a lot of times, intrusive thinking. (Therapeutic riding) helps the brain work on right now. You have to be in the present."
Soldiers turn to horses for healing
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