At nearly every funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, a horse-drawn carriage brings the deceased to his or her final resting place. Behind the scenes, those 'horses' have another important job: helping wounded warriors recover from their injuries.
“Somebody sitting on a horse - their bodies get moved as if they're walking normally, which has huge benefits for those who have had amputations,” explained Mary Jo Beckman, an instructor.
The caisson platoon equine-program was created five years ago at Fort Myer. Nearly 100 patients from Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the VA medical center have participated.
Lt. Blaine Hooper was nearly paralyzed when a rocket -propelled grenade tore up his hips, back and legs in Afghanistan.
“I got off the horse and my foot is kind of always burning and it's not burning at all. It's awesome. I'm going to continue to do this therapy,” he said.
Experts say these therapeutic riding lessons result in better balance, posture, flexibility and decision making skills. They also say social and mental benefits outweigh the physical ones.
After repeated deployments to Iraq, Lt. Col. Samantha Nerove is struggling with severe post-traumatic stress disorder. She said working with the horses creates an emotional and physical bond that helps healing.
“Last week I had a severe flashback when I was here and the horse was there to help me through that,” she said.
Fort Myer's program has been replicated world wide. In the U.S. alone, there are more than 100 riding centers that specialize in therapeutic riding for veterans and disabled Americans.