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Horses help veterans cope with PTSD through unique therapy

Veterans struggling with PTSD are finding comfort on a rural Virginia farm, easing their stress by helping care for horses
Horses help vets cope with PTSD 01:43

Retired Marine Kevin Sakaki did not expect to find peace at a rural farm in Virginia.

Like many men and women who have served in the military, he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but says spending time with former race horse Clayton is helping him cope.

"There is something peaceful about being around the horses," he told CBS News' Weijia Jiang. "It's just really relaxing."

Sakaki was diagnosed with PTSD after serving tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I just had short temper but being a sergeant in the Marine corps, it's kind of that expectation that are you doing your job well when you are kind of on that edge a little bit," he said. "The problem was carrying that home."

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports that almost 20 percent of veterans suffer from PTSD. But many patients say it can be difficult to seek help.

That's where people like Suzi Landolphi come in. She leads the equine-assisted therapy program at Boulder Crest Retreat and says veterans can learn to manage stress and begin to feel at peace through walking and grooming the animals.

"When you have gone through traumas you have to put up defenses. So you have to find a way to deal," Landolphi said. "It's not always helpful to yourself. You think it is, but it's not. What the horses offer is an opportunity to let down all your defenses."

But one thing the veterans don't do with the horses is ride them.

"We're about relationship, companionship, partnership and connection," Landolphi said. "Not about control."

When army reservist Mike King returned from Iraq, he suffered from alcohol abuse and anxiety. He says spending time with the horses is calming.

"You guys start to feed off each other and the energy is intertwined and that's when the work starts," he said.

In addition to bonding with the horses, the retreat offers free stress recovery programs for veterans and their families.

After spending about a week at the ranch, many veterans say they feel they are moving in the right direction.

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