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Huntington VA Medical Center


Veteran Riding the Way Back

Veteran Mike Scarberry holds a tight rein on Lester.

Veteran Mike Scarberry holds a tight rein on Lester, a gentle 20-year old quarter horse, as he makes his way through a pattern on the arena floor.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Veteran Mike Scarberry has been saddling up on horseback as part of his recovery through the Huntington VAMC’s new therapeutic horseback riding program. The program was established in December 2011 through a partnership with Ohio University Southern in Ironton, Ohio. Mr. Scarberry participates at the Therapeutic Riding Center in Franklin Furnace, Ohio, where he is also learning about horse grooming and riding equipment.

Therapeutic horseback riding, also known as equine assisted therapy, helps to improve the quality of life for Veterans suffering from a variety of injuries. According to VAMC Recreational Therapist Brent Sturm, this type of therapy can help patients both physically and mentally and is beneficial on many different levels.

"Adapted horseback riding has obvious physical benefits, such as improved balance, coordination and strengthened muscle control that develops from the riding motion," Sturm said. “Other benefits are not so obvious, but sometimes have a greater impact. There is an interaction that develops between the horse and rider that gives the rider a sense of communication and independence. The riding motion has also shown to stimulate verbal centers of the brain, helping individuals who have suffered a stroke and those with communication disorders.” 

Scarberry, 60, of Chesapeake, Ohio, is the medical center’s first participant in the program. After suffering a series of strokes in 2009, he lost his ability to communicate effectively. Weakness on one side of his body impaired his balance, coordination and mobility. Since beginning his weekly riding sessions a few short months ago, he’s slowly regaining his speech, stamina and balance, with remarkable improvements. His reemerging vocal skills cue the horse in various commands to complete his riding patterns, and his physical skills have improved to the point that he is now able to use a western type saddle rather than an adapted one. More importantly, his new found confidence and improved speech is carrying over into other aspects of his life and has lessened his frustrations. Scarberry has regained his sense of humor and has even started singing while riding, bringing smiles from the students at the riding center.

“Many studies have shown that Veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder display a markedly improved recovery process through Therapeutic Riding programs,” said Sturm.  “In addition, it’s an enjoyable way for Veterans to complete their therapy. It’s something that they can look forward to.”

For additional information about the therapeutic horseback riding program, contact Brent Sturm at 304-429-6755, ext.3780.


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