Soldiers and saddles: Veterans ride for therapy

In the photos: Above left, a local veteran saddles up for his Thursday morning ride. Above right, Blackfoot is one of four horses used for veteran riders at TiAnViCa Riding Academy.

| Academy’s veterans program offers more than just riding lessons |

THERE’S NO DENYING that horses hold a special place in the lives of mankind; humans and horses work and play, and they even used to go to war together. For one special stable in Lakeland, Florida, every Thursday morning finds the horses helping veterans after the fighting is over.

At TiAnViCa Riding Academy, helping others is a natural extension of everyday life. Since its founding in 2005 by Roger and Sara Meadows, the nonprofit academy has been providing educational, recreational, and therapeutic riding activities to individuals with physical, mental and emotional challenges. In 2009, the academy added a Veterans Program with the assistance of Tamara Pasquel of the Haley VA center in Tampa. “We felt the need to give back to the veterans, and their families, who were coming back from the current war and to those whom had served previously,” explains Roger Meadows.

In the program, veterans who have been injured find healing in the quiet power of the horses — for both physical and emotional wounds. “The activity involved, from grooming to riding the horse, allows the veterans to exercise while doing something they enjoy,” maintains Roger. “Emotionally, they are accepted by the horse for who they are. Many times after lessons, the veterans will just stay at the barn spending time with their horse, which is one of the times when emotions come into play.”

Horse lovers have long known of the therapeutic properties of equine companionship, and wounded veterans are benefiting. “While Ernie’s brain injury prevents him from communicating effectively, we believe that he gets great enjoyment from riding as he is much more relaxed after riding,” shares Nikki Davis, the wife of veteran participant Ernie Davis. “In addition, his balance seems to have improved over the last few years.”

Four of TiAnViCa’s 13 horses are used for the veteran riders. There’s Dootle and Blackfoot, both former Mounted Police horses; Blue, a Foundation Quarter Horse; and Star, an 18-hand Percheron — a draft horse with a history as a war and agriculture breed. The horses “are intuitive to the needs of the rider,” Roger points out.

TiAnViCa’s Veteran Program partners with The Wounded Warrior Project, which lets its alumni know about the program. They also help with funding; according to Roger, “Through a grant to P.A.T.H. (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) International, the Wounded Warrior Project will fund ten lessons for the alumni. After the ten lessons, if they choose to, they may continue to ride free of charge.”

TiAnViCa also urges everyone to spread the word to veterans, too; and to volunteer — “no horse experience necessary,” assures Roger. Veterans can find details and sign-up forms on TiAnViCa’s website:, and they are encouraged to come see the horses and healing in action on the first Thursday of every month from 10 a.m. to noon during an open house.