Veterans find comfort in friendship with rescued horses

Medford’s Forgotten Angels partners with SpectraCare for equine therapy

A veteran smiles as he pets a horse at Forgotten Angels Equine Rescue (Special to The Sun).

In a field in Medford, local veterans are introduced to new friends.

Those friends — rescued horses — may have four legs and a mane, but they are veterans in their own right. They are often retired racehorses who’ve been discarded by their owners.

“The horses don’t judge the veterans,” said Kathleen Van Stine, president of SpectraCare. “They understand them; they have a common bond. It’s just a sense of peace and a sense of calm.”

SpectraCare, a nonprofit that creates resources for veterans, the elderly and animals in need, recently teamed with Forgotten Angels Equine Rescue in Medford to offer horse therapy.

Forgotten Angels President Darlene Supnick’s father was a veteran, and before he passed away, he bought the barn where rescued horses now live. Forgotten Angels has saved more than 300 horses from kill pens.

“When I found out how therapeutic they were, and SpectraCare contacted us to help the veterans, I thought, what better can we do?” Supnick explained.

The program was developed by Laurie Huggins, who became a certified equine therapist.

SpectraCare’s team of social workers partners veterans with horses that have similar experiences. The equine therapy program is still new, but Van Stine, who is hard of hearing, was able to benefit from the therapy herself.

“The word I keep coming up with is unconditional,” she said of her experience. 

“It gives a sense of having to care for someone and someone to care for you.”

SpectraCare supports veterans who are homeless, in poverty or struggling with medical conditions like PTSD and anxiety. Equine therapy can lead to improved well‐being; quality of life; trust; self‐esteem; pleasure; and a sense of accomplishment, according to a study from the University of Missouri. 

“One veteran said it gave her hope,” Van Stine noted. “It gave her a sense of hope that people accept her for who she is. She’s been through a lot. The two of them have been through very traumatic experiences.”

During the pandemic, Forgotten Angels has been overwhelmed by the number of horses abandoned because their keepers are unable to afford them. If they aren’t rescued, many are sold to other countries, where they are slaughtered and used for meat. 

“We’re at the point where we can’t take anymore,” Supnick acknowledged.

SpectraCare wants to raise about $20,000, which it could use to support Forgotten Angels, pay equine therapists and buy a van to transport veterans to the rescue.

“I feel very strongly that these men and women sign on the dotted line, sacrifice their lives, so that we can have democracy and a free country and have freedom to do what we want,” Van Stine said. “We just take it for granted.”

To donate, visit spectracarefoundation.org or faernj.com.