3 Star Ranch offers unique free psychotherapy for veterans

3 Star Ranch offers unique free psychotherapy for veteransBy LAURA QUEZADA

News Review Staff Writer

There are fewer than 50 places in the United States where one can find a unique program designed to serve the psychotherapy needs of veterans, and one of them is in the Indian Wells Valley. Ridgecrest native, Anita J. Walraven, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, returned to the desert to be with her family after being away for 25 years.

About 10 years ago she began using horses in her therapy sessions. “ I always wanted to include the horses in therapy because office settings are kind of limited. So you get young girls and young boys out moving around; they start talking,” says Anita. Her first client was a young girl with serious issues involved abuse and severe cutting. “ I had her and a horse and we just let it happen. You know, we just focused on the horse and her talking about what comes up for her. I started that just because I had to come up with something that was more effective.”

In 2011, Anita’s husband, Rex M. Walraven, joined her at a conference presented by EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association). They loved it and became certified in 2015. This is an unusual form of therapy which contrasts with the traditional one-on-one conversation in an office setting.

Rex says, “What you have here is horses, a mental health person and I’m considered an equine specialist. All of us go out there with the client. Anita, I and the horses pick up on energy. They know a person’s energy from across the arena and they sense these things, and they start acting out the energy. So we have to go in there nonplussed.

My job is to watch the horses and see what the horses are doing in particular. I might point out something that horses are doing and Anita will compare it to what the person has got going on in their life.”

Anita adds, “Out here the dialogue is really with the client and the horses. We assist that relationship.

They start talking and we start putting their story together for them. When they start talking about maybe past abuses, and we see the horses are responding to that energy, and they make noises and run and kick and those kind of things. Then we say, ‘What do you think is going on there? Isn’t it interesting what you were sharing?’ Then Rex might say specifically what was going on with the horses as a way for them to externalize their process, because that is powerful. We carry all our stuff inside. As we externalize it, it’s powerful because then they can see it play out.”

The horses do not get special training. Anita says, “These are our horses, a couple of them we ride. So we stand back. The client will say, ‘What’s that? What does that mean? What is the horse saying?’ We cannot interpret that for them because it’s not a horsemanship class; it’s a session about their process. We keep the focus on the horses and get them engaged through the training that we’ve had through EAGALA.”

EAGALA started working with the Veterans Administration (VA) and began getting grants to provide free services. In 2019, the Walravens became a designated provider for the military and the veterans. As a former Marine, Rex is a good fit for working with veterans. Anita says, “It’s very helpful to have the benefit of Rex being a former active duty military person, because they have a language and a culture that is like none other and sometimes the veteran or the military person will start talking. It’s not like they have a different language, but they have a different way of speaking. And he can speak their language.”

In order for Anita to be certified as a provider for the military she had to have 30 hours of cultural training and 30 hours of mental health work with the military.

Now 3 Star Ranch Equine Assisted Therapy solely serves veterans at no cost thanks to the funding from the VA Adaptive Sports grant. Participants attend eight weekly 60-minute sessions.

You can reach 3 Star Ranch via their website: www.3starranch.com

Laura Austin Photo: Anita and Rex Walraven shown at their ranch with one of their horses used in EAGALA therapy.

Story First Published: 2021-11-26