COCKEYSVILLE, Md. (WJZ) — For the first time, Maryland National Guardsmen who were mobilized for the state’s COVID-19 response now have access to an equine assist program aimed at easing stress brought on by the pandemic.
At a stable in Cockeysville, members of the Army and Air National Guard are getting acquainted with their soon to be new friends.
“I’ve always loved horses, so this experience is just amazing for me,” Maryland Army National Guard Spc. Tabitha Hernandez said.
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“A little scared of horses, so we’ll see how this goes,” Maryland Army National Guard Sgt. Justin Tilman said.
The soldiers were all activated as a part of the state’s COVID-19 response, but they’re being offered the opportunity to interact with retired thoroughbred racehorses.
It’s thanks to Saratoga Warhorse, a non-profit that has been helping soldiers improve their physical, mental and emotional health since 2013.
“It’s about connecting and bonding,” Tilman said. “It’s a good stress reliever.”
The equine-assisted experience has the soldiers work with the horses to build a bond.
Steve Mooney is the veteran facilitator with Saratoga Warhorse. He’s also a veteran himself, serving 38 years in the Maryland Air National Guard.
“I’ve had people go through this program that it saved their marriage,” Mooney said. “I’ve had people who had substance abuse issues, it helped them through that. And I can’t put a number on it, but I guarantee you we’ve had people that have thought about suicide.”
Tech Sergeant Miriam Jarvis said she plans to share her experience with her fellow airmen.
“A big thing that we preach is mission first, people always,” Jarvis said. “We can’t take care of our mission if we’re not taking care of our people.”
These 1,200-pound racehorses seem to be more than willing to help.
The program is for both active duty military, as well as veterans.