A horse grazes in the sun next to a barb wire fence at the Willard-Cybulski Correctional Institution in Enfield. They are part of a one-of-a kind program is helping to rehabilitate incarcerated veterans in Connecticut.
Inmate Daniel Elliot is working on trust.
“If he’d feel me slipping back a little on his shoulder, he’d stop and wait for me,” he said. “No reins or nothing. Just walking together.”
Elliot is one of 700 veterans currently behind bars in Connecticut. As part of a program called Operation Warrior Horse, he spends time with the animals for therapy.
“It just helps me calm down and just realize that not everything is such a big issue,” Elliot said. “For the whole week it gives me a peace of mind.”
Licensed social worker and equine expert Renee Bouffard says it’s a 10 week program designed to help veteran offenders who may also be dealing with things like PTSD.
“We believe that all veterans deserve help once they’ve left the service because of all they’ve giving for us, and this is our way to give back,” Bouffard said.
The horses offer them something that humans can’t.
“Horses actually can identify with your emotions and what you’re giving off and the energy that your giving off,” said counselor supervisor Aesha Munin. “It has to work.”
Connecticut’s Commissioner of Corrections Rollin Cook says Operation Warrior Horse is working.
“The men that are involved, they’ve expressed to us that they’re in a place now, a very positive place in their lives that they haven’t seen for a very long time, and it just comes from these sessions of being able to interact with the treatment providers and with the horses.”
“There is a genuine care that we get better, that we get help,” said Elliot. “Even if it’s just saving one veteran, you’re making a big difference.”