By Starrla Cray
WAVERLY, MN They’ve been through unspeakable trauma, but the women at Freedom Farm in Waverly are finding hope and healing through horses.
The Healing with Horses program, which is open to female veterans and active service members, began three years ago with the goal of helping those who’ve served regain confidence, trust, focus, and emotional freedom.
“They’re working on changing negative thoughts, one negative thought at a time,” said founder/executive director Susie Bjorklund. “They’ve had incredible success it’s been amazing.”
The women’s veteran/active duty program is just one aspect of Freedom Farm, which primarily serves as a therapeutic riding center for special needs children.
“Horses are such large, gentle animals,” Bjorklund said. “They know how you’re feeling before you even lay a hand on them.”
Bjorklund has family members who’ve served in the military, but said she can’t begin to understand all the challenges soldiers face.
“Each of the women here has a different story,” she said.
Each week, the seven women currently involved in the program spend about four hours at Freedom Farm. Before going out with the horses, participants have group sharing time facilitated by a licensed psychologist. The non-threatening sessions allow women to share their thoughts if they are interested in doing so.
Riding and caring for horses is another way the women work on lessening posttraumatic stress symptoms.
“They practice mindfulness, and the horses help them do that in a very natural way,” Bjorklund said.
Participants find that the focus they build while riding has a lasting effect, spilling over into other daily activities.
“For the first time since coming home, we feel safe, supported, and listened to without judgment,” one veteran noted. “Brought together in this peaceful and welcoming space, we learn to trust ourselves and each other, forming unique bonds between our sisters and our horses.”
Healing with Horses was the recent recipient of a $13,000 grant from Veterans 4 Veterans, which will cover about a third of the annual $43,000 cost of the program.
“We don’t charge the veterans,” Bjorklund said. “If anybody is so moved to donate, that would be beautiful.”
Freedom Farm’s goal is to renovate the century-old Lake Ida Schoolhouse on the edge of the property, to create a confidential meeting place and retreat center. Donations of labor, money, or materials are greatly appreciated.
Freedom Farm is located at 11500 Ferman Ave. SW in Waverly. To learn more about the Healing for Horses program for women veterans/active duty service members, call (952) 955-2505 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.