October 2015 Issue - page 4

Page 4
October 2015
PENNSYLVANIA EQUESTRIAN
2
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John Zanella with his personal Mustang mare, Bella Donna (right) and Tully, a solid bay Appaloosa,
whom he uses in the Victory Therapeutic Horsemanship program. The program for veterans suffering
from PTSD and other injuries opened in Bellville, PA in March.
by Crystal Piaskowski
There is something about
a horse—a solid, warm, and
silent creature— that can soothe
and connect with even the most
traumatized souls. Victory Ther-
apeutic Horsemanship, located in
Bellwood, PA, specializes in just
that: uniting detached, troubled
veterans with an equine partner
who can help them unearth their
humanity.
John Zanella, founder of
the no-cost Victory Therapeu-
tic Horsemanship for military
veterans, is a strong advocate for
the benefits of equine therapy. A
twenty-year Army veteran with
eleven combat tours under his
belt, Zanella faced Post-Trau-
matic Stress Disorder, Traumatic
Brain Injuries, and numerous
physical injuries that caused
a medical retirement from his
military life.
Since he grew up with
horses and continued to ride in
the Army, Zanella was cajoled to
participate in an equine therapy
program at the Warrior Transition
Victory Therapeutic Horsemanship Brings Solace to PA Veterans
Battalion in Fort Lewis, WA. It
was this program, he said, that
helped him find the will to keep
fighting. “Studies are showing
suicide at a horrific rate among
veterans, at twenty-two each day.
It was only through therapeutic
riding that I found the will to
keep fighting and not become just
another statistic,” said Zanella.
After moving to Pennsylva-
nia to keep in touch with family,
Zanella quickly realized that even
with the large veteran popula-
tion, most of the equine therapies
in the area catered to children.
“While the existing programs
are great and much needed,
adult-centered equine therapy
was not available. In the absence
of something, you create it…
and that’s what I did,” explained
Zanella.
Prey Animal Partnership
In March of 2015, Zanella
filled the void with the official
launch of Victory Therapeutic
Horsemanship. With eight-
week cycles of introductory and
intermediate courses, participants
build confidence through rou-
tine and consistency in a natural
horsemanship setting. “They
don’t even get on a horse for
the first five weeks,” explained
Zanella. “It’s not necessarily
about the riding component. It’s
about each week building on the
prior week’s lesson, learning
horse behavior, and establishing
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