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People & Pets

Horses Helping Heroes

5/1/2024

A lifelong horse trainer, veteran and former police officer is helping other veterans with mental health issues by offering equine therapy.

Eric Moorman is a program director for Horses Helping Heroes, also known as H3. Located at the Jester Park Equestrian Center in Granger, the program is sponsored by Polk County Conservation along with other company sponsors and donations. 

The H3 program provides 20 horses including riding, ground, mini and draft horses. The non-riding, ground-based program offers veterans a chance to walk, brush the horse, or just spend time with them during outpatient group therapy.

Monday morning sessions are reserved for veterans with severe PTSD. Larger draft horses are often used with these veterans. 

“Veterans like the big horses because it doesn’t make their problems seem as big,” Moorman explains. “A horse gives you reflection, not judgment. Petting a horse slows down heart rate and relaxes. It does a lot for anxiety and depression.”

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A new program also teaches veterans to drive draft horses with a wagon. 

“They are in charge of two horses. It helps them to give the veterans more control over their lives,” he says.

Moorman grew up in the horse business. With stallions, breeding and show horses, he often missed school to attend horse events with his parents. He has had horses his entire life except for the six years when he served in the Marines in the Gulf War.

As a police officer with the Des Moines Police Department, he often rode his horse for public appearances. 

“I have PTSD from the Gulf War, plus being a police officer for 30 years. I’m lucky to have horses,” he reflects. “My wife knows that it’s a bad day if I rode three or four horses. That’s my relaxation.”

The program offers free programming to all veterans on Wednesday evenings. They also host homeless veterans once a month. 

“When homeless veterans interact with the horses, it provides an emotional bond. They leave a totally different and happy person. All they did was brush, pet and walk them around.”

Moorman is the first veteran to lead the program, and he’s hoping to launch other horse programs including a first responder and a veteran drill team to compete at the Iowa State Fair. They recently purchased eight mini horses for the program. The Equestrian Center also offers trail camps for kids and other various horse events for adults.

The Polk County Conservation funds most horse-related expenses. However, H3 utilizes sponsors and donations for their projects. Moorman is passionate about funding a trail obstacle course ride, which is raising money for prevention of veteran suicides, as the national average is a disturbing 22 veteran suicides a day. 

All the horses have their own personalities. Moorman says horses can pick up on cues from the human. 

“They want to be your friend and feel that connection. It’s a two-way street. A horse is looking for a leader. We had one marine Gulf War combat veteran that, when he approached the horse, it was second nature for him. The average person (not in the military) doesn’t understand how a veteran is wired. But veterans do.”

A horse is a trusted friend for Moorman and other veterans. 

“The outside of the horse is healing for the inside,” he says. 

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Summer Stir - June 2024