COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Being a kid in a military family can be difficult, especially when they have to say goodbye to their parents when they’re being deployed. But for some, it becomes even harder once they get back.
Every day, 22 veterans take their lives after battling PTSD. But this weekend, kids who have lost their loved ones to suicide were given a special opportunity. TAPS, also known as the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, held its seventh annual National Military Suicide Survivors Seminar. They invited families from all over the country to take part in this weekend-long event filled with activities. Saturday, they took eight groups of kids ages 4 to 19 to spend the day with horses at the Colorado Springs Therapeutic Riding Center.
“Our younger kids are getting to ride on ponies,” Diana Wright, TAPS Youth Program Coordinator, said. “There’s a certain element of trust that’s involved in that and for children, when they’ve lost a loved one, trust is something that they lose so it’s hard to reestablish.”
“Horses just connect with people unlike any other animal does,” Certified Path Riding Instructor Jamie Harrison said. “They’re kind of mirrors to our souls in a sense. They pick up on energy that we have.”
The older kids get to do equine assisted psychotherapy. For some, this was their first time even being around horses.
“I’ve had a lot of kids ride today for the first time and they’re kind of scared at first and once they swing their leg on and sit down it’s just a huge smile and like a rush of joy that comes to their faces,” Jamie Harrison said.
“Once they get on the horse they go, ‘I just can’t believe how I feel, how relaxed I feel,’ how calming the horses are to them,” said Nancy Harrison, owner and CEO of Colorado Springs Therapeutic Riding Center.
TAPS pairs each child with a mentor who gets to see them evolve over the weekend-long seminar.
“The most things I’ve seen so far especially with my little guy is a huge amount of confidence,” mentor Gabriel Rao said. “There’s something really just fantastic and natural about being around the horses and there’s a comforting quality that they have.”
The mentors themselves are chosen because they’ve gone through similar tragedies.
“My brother Elijah was killed in Afghanistan December 5th of 2009 and was actually based out of here at Fort Carson, so TAPS has been a real integral part of our story,” said Rao.
This is why he wants to give back any way he can.
“Seeing him come out of his shell has been phenomenal, not only for us but he’s going to go home with his mom and have a really good time and be able to share these stories with her as well,” Rao said.
For more information about the TAPS program, visit their website at www.TAPS.org . If you’d like to know more about the Colorado Springs Therapeutic Riding Center, check out their website at www.CSTRC.org .