Equine therapy program treats RCMP officers with PTSD

WATCH :  Jill Croteau reports on the expansion of the Can Praxis horse therapy program to include RCMP officers.

CALGARY- Every day, police officers put their lives on the line, but in recent years more officers are dying by suicide that at the hands of criminals. More than 30 RCMP officers have died by suicide since 2006.

That has prompted an equine therapy program in Alberta to expand to include RCMP officers suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Can Praxis, near Rocky Mountain House, opened to help war veterans with PTSD.

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Now it is operating a similar program to help RCMP members and their spouses in hopes of intervening before it’s too late.

Cst. Shane Stewart, who went to Can Praxis for PTSD treatment, says nothing prepared him for the loss of his leg in a hunting accident that had a profound impact on both his professional and personal life.

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“Got my leg amputated and it’s easier because you can see it right? But with PTSD there’s nothing to see. “

His recovery from the injury, both physically and mentally, has also been difficult for his wife.

“I had come home at lunch and he was at the kitchen sink,” says Shawna Stewart.  “I went back to work and came home at end of the day and he was still at the kitchen sink and he couldn’t tell me what he was doing there.”

All of a sudden it wasn’t just warning bells it was a huge siren that this isn’t normal and this isn’t right.

“I just kept it all in without knowing I was doing so,” says her husband.

The couple travelled to the Can Praxis ranch near Rocky Mountain House to get help. They got it in the form of an intense three-day equine therapy course.

Shane and Shawna Stewart say it helped in ways medication or psychologists couldn’t.

“You see a lot of heartbreak, homicides and fatalities,” says Cpl. Wayne Howse, who has participated in the Can Praxis program. “You see the worst of what mankind has to offer so you hold it all in.”

Can Praxis co-founder, Steve Critchley, says the program works by using interaction with horses to increase a participant’s self-awareness, learn effective communication skills and manage conflict.

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“There’s an expectation that the program we have here is ‘hug a horse and the world’s problems go away,’” says Critchley, a Canadian Forces veteran. “The reality is we want to know what’s the crap you’re standing in and how bad is it smothering you and what do you need to do to re-establish communication with those most important to you.”

The equine therapy program for the RCMP is funded by Boots Campaign Canada.

The program for veterans is funded in part by Wounded Warriors Canada, a non-profit group that helps soldiers deal with both physical and mental health issues.

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