Army veteran Charmayne Baycock stands on a mounting platform on the side of Hampton, a 1,500-pound Thoroughbred/Percheron black horse. 

“Are you ready?” asks Boaz Or, a master trainer at the Equest’s therapeutic horse park in South Dallas. 

“I know I’m ready,” says Baycock. “C’mon, horse!” She slowly throws her right leg over the saddle, pulls on the saddle horn and mounts Hampton.

With Or holding the bridle, the horse and rider walk into the hangarlike training ring. For the next hour Or will put Baycock and her husband, Cecil, through a dozen drills on the soft dirt-and-sand surface. The point is to get the veterans “to start listening to the horse — to what he tells you,” says Or, who served in the Israeli Defense Forces.

After becoming a certified therapeutic riding instructor, Susannah Denney founded Hooves for Heroes within Equest in 2012. (Equest has been around 38 years.) Since then the program has helped over 1,500 veterans, who may join at no cost. “The big focus is the partnership with the horse,” the veterans coordinator says. “The horse is nonverbal, and if they can learn to communicate nonverbally, veterans can transfer that to social situations.”

In 2007, Denney lost “a loved one in Iraq.” She struggled for the next few years until she discovered therapeutic horsemanship: “I knew I had found my purpose and how I could be of service to others.”

Equine-assisted counseling typically includes a mental health professional, an equine specialist in mental health and equine learning, the horse and the client. Clients can be individuals, couples, families or groups. Denney says the program expanded significantly when Jeff Hensley, a 21-year Navy fighter pilot and licensed professional counselor, joined her.

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