Hope Project: A Hero with Horses Healing More Heroes
Chaplain (LTC) David Trogdon, US Army, Ret.
David is the founder and director of Hope Project, and is a true hero to veterans, first responders and their families. The growth and impact he and his team are making is astounding. Read on to hear David’s story. It’s quite moving.
What do you love about being an Eagala member?
Our membership in Eagala provides the HOPE Project with opportunities to grow and learn from others in order for us to be better equipped to reach our Veterans, First Responders, their Families and others who may be struggling with PTSD, addictions, suicide and may be victims of physical and sexual abuse.
The team aspect of Eagala is not just between our treatment team, Mental Health Professional and Equine Specialist, but with all our Eagala Family.
How are you making an impact?
The HOPE Project launched in 2016 with 10 horses, 8 of which had been rescued from kill pens and with a Director (me) who knew almost nothing about horses or therapies involving horses. In November of 2016, I attended my very first Eagala training and our journey as an Eagala Program truly began. We received our Eagala Military Designation in January 2020 and since then, we continue to grow in our outreach.
In the first year, we almost had to beg Veterans to come out. And now, today in September of 2020, we are reaching over 100-150 Veterans, First Responders and others who need help and hope. Our growth has not just been with Veterans and their Families but also being able to help Children, Teens and Women who have been victims of physical and/or sexual abuse.
We have been on an amazing journey of ups and downs. Our area and ranch was devastated by the Category 5 Hurricane Michael on October 10, 2018 and then, the Coronavirus hit. But none of that has thwarted our efforts or our dreams. The growth of the HOPE Project has been simply amazing and the future for the HOPE Project is truly exciting.
We will continue to provide free Eagala Model psychotherapy sessions, along with additional programs and services such as therapeutic riding, counseling and resources, but also, in the near future, provide a retreat center at our new HOPE Ranch at the HOPE House.
In 2015, I was medically retired after 25 years active duty service in the United States Army. My service had included almost three years of combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan. My injuries were both physical and emotional (significant PTSD and depression).
The transition from the military was far more difficult than I ever could have imagined.
Not only did I struggle with PTSD and my physical injuries, but I had lost my sense of identity and purpose. The Medical Board paperwork included this sentence, “You are no longer considered fit to continue service as an Active Duty Soldier.”
I had done everything I was supposed to do. I did my “time” in the Army Behavioral Health system, including counseling, group therapy and taking my “crazy pills” but now I was struggling just as bad as ever. My struggle included thoughts of suicide because I had failed, I was broken, I was crazy and this once proud Soldier was a “nobody.”
In 2016, I had the opportunity to move to Florida to start a program reaching out to Wounded Warriors, Veterans and their Families involving horses. There was just one problem. I didn’t know anything about horses and even though I had spent numerous months in combat and jumped out of a few airplanes during my service, I was even a little afraid of these huge animals.
During my research, I discovered Eagala via Google. I signed up for the training and attended a week long training in North Carolina. At first, I was skeptical. As a Chaplain, I had specialized in trauma, child loss, grief and yes, combat ministry. I didn’t do “touchy-feely.”
From the first day of the training until this very day, I have been constantly amazed at what the horses do for me and my struggles with PTSD as well as for the hundreds of Vets and others we have been blessed to reach.
Traditional Behavioral Health therapies and medications are a good thing but they are far from being enough. Suicide continues to devastate so many lives and Veterans continue to struggle with substance abuse and numerous other emotional injuries.
“PTSD is trauma to the soul. If we ignore the soul, then we will not find the hope and healing we need to live. Horses touch the soul. ” – David Trogden
My horses know when I am struggling and “check in” on me. My headaches, which no medication or treatment has been able to help, go away when I’m around the horses. I have seen Vets who have come to HOPE after being in VA hospitals and other facilities for PTSD and other emotional issues totally transformed by time spent with the horses.
I am constantly amazed at what happens between horse and Veteran. I have seen the bond that takes place in the arena, the tears, the huge smiles and heard so many statements like,
“I have been through so many therapies and today has helped me more than everything else I have tried combined!”
One of my favorite quotes came from a partner psychotherapist, who showed me her chill bumps and tears saying,
“You got more out of her [our client] in 5 minutes with a horse than we have in 5 months in therapy. I can’t explain but Eagala works. The horse is the true therapist. Horses know, care and reach a place in our hearts and minds that no other therapist can reach. I am no longer a skeptic. I am an Eagala Mental Health Professional who serves alongside my Eagala Equine Specialist and our worldwide Eagala team watching our horses do the real work of bringing hope and healing to our Veterans, First Responders, their Families, victims of abuse and to so many others. “
That is why we do what we do.
They also have an Amazon wish list, if you feel so inclined to send them a gift for all the powerful work they are doing to keep our veterans and first responders living a life of joy again.