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Helping veterans heal through horse therapy | On the Bright Side

The Building Bridges Foundation is helping veterans heal through horse therapy.

CONESTOGA, Pa. — Vietnam veteran Larry Russell carries the weight of that war with him. 

While it's difficult for him to talk about, these horses are making it easier.

"Being with the horses, in their presence," said Russell. "It was healing."

The Building Bridges Foundation was formed in 2016 to bring free equine therapy to veterans and their family members.

"The ability of horses to sense all kinds of emotions is where you start," said program coordinator Joseph Campbell. "The veteran becoming accustomed to that and interacting with the horse over time is very therapeutic."

Building Bridges founder Dave Anderson donated 21 acres of land and six horses to the nonprofit.  

"He has a relative who came home and committed suicide after his service," said Campbell. "So Anderson has always had the idea of Building Bridges in mind." 

Russell and a horse named Friendly formed an incredible bond, but he says it took some time. 

"I wasn't real sure about it initially, but we hit it off," he said. 

Veterans take part in weekly equine therapy sessions over the course of a few months to build trust.

"It's a commitment in time, but it's a good payoff from what I understand from our veterans," said Campbell. 

After his positive experience, Russell wants to share his experience with other veterans who may be struggling. 

"I was there for years and it's not a good thing," he said. "Come out of that shell and be part of the program." 

"I think the biggest thing is changing from a sense of isolation and carrying problems alone, to understanding this is a location they can come freely express themselves and get a handle on issues bothering them," said Campbell. 

Most recently, a Vet's Café has been added to the grounds, and it's quickly expanding. 

"Between the equine therapy and Vet's Café, which is not really therapy, but sure feels like it...I feel like I'm part of a family," said Campbell. 

Two hundred fifty local veterans have gone through the Building Bridges Program. 

Again, all services are free to vets and their families. 

For more information, head here.  

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