Equestrian therapy for veterans discussed on campus
November 12, 2023
22 veterans a day commit suicide. This poignant statement, from keynote speaker Toni Mattson in the Veterans Day commemoration at UW-River Falls on Nov. 9, is a hard truth to stomach. According to the CDC, the veteran suicide rate is roughly 60% higher than the non-veteran rate, and makes up nearly 14% of total US adults suicides. This sobering statistic was tackled by Mattson in her Veterans Day speech.
Mattson is an author, podcaster, and one of the founders of Trinity Equestrian Center, a horse ranch which sports a wellness program for veterans and their families. The therapy incorporates three key pieces: the horse, the team, and the spirit, according to Mattson.
“We’re often not a veterans first choice,” she said, “but often times we’re their last resort.”
In 2009, Mattson and the center launched its equestrian veterans wellness program, becoming one of the first in the region. “Since then, our team has provided thousands of free therapy hours and encounters to hundreds of veterans and their families and has been recognized as the Midwest leader in Equine Assisted Therapy,” Mattson’s personal website stated.
During her speech, Mattson detailed the importance that horses play in the program, and what they can do for veterans struggling with PTSD. “[The horses] have a really keen sense of what we’re feeling, and their intuition is flawless... it is absolutely authentic and effective,” she said.
Although not a veteran herself, Mattson grew up surrounded by veterans: her father, brothers, grandfather, and uncles.
The event was held in the University Center's Falcons Nest, with members of the student body, faculty, and community in attendance. In his remarks, Provost David Travis noted that there are 350,000 veterans in the state of Wisconsin and 125 student veterans currently on campus.
“These men and women, who have sworn to defend our state and our nation against all enemies, foreign and domestic, are indeed a precious and rare group of individuals who we must protect and treasure. On behalf of the university, thank you to those who have served, including those who are part of our university community both past and present.”
Mattson closed the event with her advice on how to thank a veteran on the holiday. “It isn’t so much as thank you for your service, but thank you for your trade,” she said. “Thank you, [veterans], for what you traded for us...there is so much that veterans have traded for us.”