Healing on horseback: VBPD partners with Equikids to help officers with PTSD and anxiety

Virginia Beach

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — The Virginia Beach Mounted Patrol is a staple at the Oceanfront. The gentle giants trot near the boardwalk, luring in people of all ages.

Katrina Conner has been with her four-legged partner Jackson for about six months, after seven years on the force.

“The things that I’ve learned, the things I’ve experienced, the people I’ve met, the relationships I’ve built will be with me for the rest of my life,” Conner said.

Conner recalls the good memories and the bad ones.

“You respond to a fatal accident, or the death of a child, or someone’s family member who is potentially suffering from some type of mental illness or crisis. We try to help them the best way we can, and that builds up on us,” Conner said.

She says the good outweighs the bad — but the bad can stick with you.

“It was a child death that I worked, and I went home and cried,” Conner said.

“Just taking our uniform off at the end of the day doesn’t magically make that really terrible call you experienced that day go away. You’re still mentally left with that picture,” Conner explained.

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Those scarring snapshots can leave responding officers with post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety, but now there are some new counselors stepping in to help.

Stacy Rogers is the executive director of Equikids Therapeutic Riding Program in Virginia Beach.

“Horses are the most amazing counselors you could ever welcome into your life. A horse never judges. A horse is never going to talk back, but they are going to read your emotions,” Rogers said.

Equikids is a special horse farm that uses animals to heal children with disabilities and wounded warriors.

“We’ve seen horses go from being incredibly gentle with someone who needs a gentle spirit to being very excited to work with someone who needs their energy,” Rogers stated.

On Wednesdays, Rogers makes her way to the Virginia Beach Police Mounted Patrol facility in Pungo.

“We’ve been working on a program where we can help heal first responders and others impacted in our community by different traumatic events,” Rogers said.

After two years, that idea has been put into action through a unique partnership with mounted patrol. It’s a six-week program where participants volunteer to come out on Wednesdays for two hours.

“We want to break that stigma. It’s OK to need help,” Conner said.

In the program, they learn the basics of riding, grooming, and even mucking stalls. Running the show are certified instructors, and with every tug of the reins, it’s a little relief off their heavy hearts.

“Oh, it’s definitely magic. We get to see horses take people who walk in with anxiety or stress, people that haven’t smiled. By the end of an hour at our horse stable, they walk out with a different energy,” Rogers said.

VBPD hopes to open it up to EMS, fire, dispatchers and deputies in the future.

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