Addressing the Unmet Needs of U.S. Veterans Through Equine-Assisted Therapy

By Patrick Coyle





November 11, 2021

Patrick Coyle

Patrick's blog is inspired by lessons of leadership, passion for people, and elevating each experience to fulfill and bundle the collective energy to achieve meaningful outcomes.

Shortly after joining Eisai, I organized a team-building event to challenge our mindset and give us the freedom to realize endless possibilities. We broke the barriers of our minds by breaking wooden boards with our bare hands. We channeled that energy into collaboration, building wheelchairs, and assembling care packages to support our local veterans.

For me, it was a way to live Eisai's human health care (hhc) mission by honoring the sacrifices of veterans and addressing the unmet needs of people who served their country. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 1 in 10 veterans of Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom, and the Gulf War have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in a given yeari. It's important to me that we honor their sacrifices and support their next mission. For Veterans Day in 2019, we sought inspiration and new opportunities to help our veterans nursing war wounds. We started by looking around our community and discovered a local mustang horse farm that provides Eagala Equine Therapy.

Team members from Eisai Finance met Mark and Amy Steppe, who work with wild mustangs to help their fellow veterans. The mustangs at the Unbridled Heroes Project (UHP) are rescued from neglected environments. Horses have wonderful long-term memories that store their pain like veterans coping with PTSD.

Mark and Amy shared their powerful story and the personal impact of their time serving in the military. They explained that you need to connect with something outside of yourself when you're lost and in pain. Likewise, these horses need to gain trust, and they require open and honest communication to heal. The non-verbal communication between each veteran and horse ultimately begins the healing process.

This symbiotic connection triggers a response from deep inside where the pain hides. Their anxiety is alleviated, and a sense of purpose is restored. The farm is a magical place where positive energy flourishes and ignites inspiration for all participants.

My team returned from the farm deeply moved and determined to support UHP's great cause. We shared our ideas with senior leadership and developed a plan to help. We provided financial support for the horses' needs and provided consultation for submitting grant proposals. My experience on the farm moved me to action and compelled me to join the Board of Directors at UHP to help them realize their vision in the next phases of growth.

We continue to find new ways to support our hhc mission and explore activities that focus on the unmet needs of patients. Earlier this year, we met a 24-year-old retired Marine in remission from cancer who was not managing his emotional pain effectively. We listened to his journey, empathized with compassion, and uncovered his longing for a more active, independent, and social lifestyle. This experience led us to explore a "one-stop" patient research platform to organize resources and promote independence. This could offer veterans a lifeline and interconnectivity to local support programs.

This September, the team went back to the farm to do work that would immediately impact this community. In just one month’s time we went from concept to execution on a plan to tend to the more overgrown parts of the farm. Our team spent an entire day removing debris, fallen trees, and rocks from bridle paths and at the entrance to enhance curb appeal. Then we created a circle of hope deep in the woods for healing and meditation. On this day, our team had the pleasure of meeting a veteran named Doc and his service dog Shadow. Doc told us about his experience in Iraq as a medic and his struggle in finding peace when he returned. He also shared how crucial his service dog was in helping him continue his work to heal others-once again showing us the powerful connection animals can have on this community.

For UHP, availability of resources has been limited since the start of the pandemic. It was a great honor for us to come together as ONE TEAM, because at Unbridled Heroes Project no one is left behind. It is our team's mission to help these veterans once their missions overseas have ended.

My goal is to help UHP create a template for success in New Jersey that can be replicated in other areas. I hope to develop a path of assistance to allow veterans to heal and find a new purpose. Through advocacy and volunteer efforts, we can all do our part to help them transition to a more active and independent life.

Every day at Eisai, we live our hhc mission by working to meet people’s unmet needs and tailoring our support to help improve their lives. That's precisely why we're pledging our support for this cause.

i US Department of Veterans Affairs “PTSD: National Center for PTSD. accessed on October 14, 2021.