What does a 20 year Veteran of the Army who was medically retired due to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) from 11 combat tours do when they leave the military? In the case of John Zanella, he started a non-profit organization to provide Veterans in central Pennsylvania a much-needed equine therapy program.
According to John Zanella, “Studies have repeatedly shown that therapeutic riding has a massive positive effect on combat Veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI), and coping with pain and physical injuries. Through working with horses we aim to empower our Veterans and offer a gratifying outlet in which to work through their ailments.”
As Zanella’s injuries worsened and he moved closer to being medically retired, he was transferred to the Warrior Transition Battalion (WTB) in Fort Lewis, Washington where he was talked into participating in a therapeutic horse riding program (also called Equine Therapy). Zanella admits that the riding program he participated in “saved his life“.
To those running the program near Fort Lewis, Zanella’s previous experience with horses showed and he was asked to volunteer with the program and would eventually become an instructor. Once medically retired, Zanella moved to Pennsylvania to be closer to family, but he quickly noticed that there was no program around him like the one that helped him so much at Fort Lewis. With a large Veteran population in the area, he firmly believed that they could benefit from an Equine Therapy Program as he did and went to work to make it happen.
Zanella’s organization, Victory Therapeutic Horsemanship (VTH), stood up in March of this year and is headquartered in Bellwood, Pennsylvania. Courses offered through VTH last 8 weeks and they start from the ground up, teaching Veterans the basic skills of horsemanship, and they keep building on the skills that they learn. While the introductory classes are held at a stable near the headquarters, other locations in the area will host the riders as they progress to more challenging trails and ride longer distances.
VTH currently has four horses and nine Veterans have attended the course at no cost to them. VTH is operated by an all volunteer staff and operates entirely on donations, fundraisers and sponsorships. If you are interested in taking part in one of the courses that VTH offers, their next course starts in October of this year.