Building on the Ride
clockwise from bottom left, Terry Nichols, Paul Nichols, MP Erin O’Toole, MP Todd Doherty, and North Central Local Government Association President Laurey Anne Roodenburg
Prince George, B.C.- It has been 8 months since Paul and Terry Nichols of Kersley, wrapped up their 200 day cross Canada horseback ride to raise awareness about equine therapy for veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but the road ahead may be just as long.
The Nichols are offering a program called “Equine Assisted Mindfulness” which sees veterans working with horses as a step on their transition to community life. They have run some pilot sessions and have seen positive results. But providing those programs costs money and the Nichols are shouldering much of the costs themselves.
Paul Nichols served with the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry in Croatia and Bosnia. when he returned to Canada he remained in the military for a time, until he and his wife decided to start a family. It was when he left the military that Paul started to struggle “For me, that’s when my war started. I left this close family, this brotherhood, and I say that in a gender non specific way, but it’s also a matter of being able to rely on the people you serve with, we live by a code. I came from a world where people make things happen quickly, it’s all about forward movement, it’s speedy, even at the sake of hurting someone’s feelings, you don’t take feelings into account, you weren’t issued feelings it’s just get the job done. We come home and find ourselves in a civilian world where it’s a kinder, gentler Canada and when you make such a drastic shift into what is normal, some of our troops are struggling because they can’t find their way.”
Nichols says Equine AM helped him cope and from there decided to raise awareness in the hopes of helping other veterans who were struggling. Over the course of the cross country ride, hundreds of veterans saddled up to join him for at least a portion of the trek.
(At right, NCLGA President Laurey Anne Roodenburg, Erin O’Toole and Todd Doherty get a lesson in equine therapy from Terry Nichols and “Skipper”)
Former Minister of Veterans Affairs Erin O’Toole joined Cariboo- Prince George MP Todd Doherty and representatives from all levels of government for a visit to the Nichols ranch to learn more about the program and to help build a plan to move it forward.
Critical to moving the program forward is funding, “They’re actually selling their own properties, boats and things, to help other veterans” says O’Toole. “What we need to do is to make sure they learn some of the great practices some of the other great equine programs have done to help make sure they have the clinical therapy aspect built right into the program.”
O’Toole says equine therapy is cutting edge treatment “The horse is the therapist that opens the door to talk about the underlying injury. In some cases, veterans haven’t had any experience tackling the issues they are suffering from. We’ve already heard how these programs they are running here allow people to leave their home for the first time in nearly a decade, it’s remarkably successful and we have to make sure, that once they open up to treatment here, that they (veterans) continue treatment in their own community with a therapist or counselor or peer counseling.” He says there needs to be standards for these type of treatment programs so professionals, whether it is in Vancouver or Prince Rupert, understand the programs.
But getting to the point where the Nichols program incorporates those standards will take more work and time. To start, O’Toole has advised them to develop a business plan . He has also offered to connect them with a number of organizations he has gotten to know through his previous work in Veteran’s Affairs and the True Patriot Love Foundation he founded which aims to help veterans and their families.
“The Nichols are not just talking the talk, they are walking the walk, they proved that with the ride they did last year” says MP Doherty. “We need to help them build that critical component so they can continue to focus on what they do best and not worry about things like, how are they going to get veterans here, so that when a veteran calls and says ‘I need help’, they don’t have to sell something to get that veteran here.”
So for the Nichols, the journey continues “We still have a long way to go” says Paul Nichols “It’s a process, and we are learning our lessons as we go. The troops across Canada told us what they want, they told us they want this program, so we have to reflect that, it’s our new purpose. We’re not going to quit.”