A warhorse who ran 96 times before retiring to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF) in 2005 will lead the charge this week in a pilot program to help combat veterans drive back their post-war demons.
Viva Pentelicus, a 15-hand gelding who earned $347,000 in a nine-year racing career, is set to play an integral role in a California therapy program launched this week to help veterans grappling with post traumatic stress disorder.
The petite bay Thoroughbred, who exudes class and confidence, was introduced to California lawmakers yesterday during a ceremony to mark the launch of pilot program, Stable Survivors, at the Healing Arenas Ranch in Escalon, Calif.
Dam: Vivacious Sheila, by Herat
Foal date: May 1, 1996
Earnings: $347,494 in 96 starts“Viva is the perfect horse to work with veterans, because he’s a warhorse himself,” says Julie Baker, founder and president of Healing Arenas. “He has really shined working in our other programs … he was unbelievably gentle with the kids. Although he does have some issues with spooking because he has a little eyesight problem, with the kids, he stands quietly and lets them put stuffed animals on him, and even dress him up.”
And yet Viva is a strong horse too. In the herd, he is the second-in-command, answering to no other equine except an intimidating pony they all call “the ranch horse,” she says.
Building on three years of experience working with adults and children in a variety of programs at Healing Arenas, work which was preceded by a job in the TRF’s horsemanship program, Second Chances, teaching prison inmates new skills, Viva is uniquely equipped to work with veterans, she says.
A sensitive Thoroughbred with a highly attuned flight-fight instinct, Viva will work with veterans in a clinical psychotherapy setting, augmenting their regular therapy sessions, she says. Vets will be asked to interact and engage with Viva without the usual assistance of tools like halters and ropes, she says.
Performing basic maneuvers with Viva, the vets will focus their attention on the thousand-pound animal in an experiential therapy setting, inviting human to view horse as a metaphor for their own life and struggle, she says.
“For example, a vet may approach the horse as if they’re going to war and have a mission to perform,” she says. Their experiences with Viva will be incorporated into psychotherapy discussions in the office with their individual psychotherapist professionals, she adds.
The Stable Survivor’s project, which launched this week with an open house attended by local and national politicians, is the vehicle for a “very, very classy horse” like Viva, she says, noting that the small Thoroughbred has occupied a central position at Healing Arenas since 2012, when she and cofounder Marina Bennett first met him at his former TRF farm in Oklahoma.
“He’s an awesome horse,” she says. “He’ll tell you all about yourself in two seconds.”