A few months ago, while working a campaign in South Carolina a friend of mine, Michael Grambush, introduced me to a rewarding project called The Xena Project. He then said he was invited to the ranch to take pictures and help promote the project as well. What’s The Xena Project? Glad you asked.
The Xena Project is a veteran-operated 501(c)3 that facilitates healing of veterans and their families through equine and animal therapy. It empowers veterans and their families in a safe and tranquil environment to explore varied and unique self-healing offerings in and around the West Houston, Texas region. The Xena Project also works in alliance with the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Foundation of America.
The Xena Project exists to support and enhance the mental, emotional, and spiritual well being of our nation’s veterans through the camaraderie of fellow veterans, and peer led offerings. These offerings attract and serve veterans of all wars, ages, backgrounds, branches of service, and needs. All services are provided free of charge. The Xena Project is focused on therapeutic value, striving for repeated exposure and building long-term relationships.
The Xena Project is the only initiative of their kind in the country, The Xena Project attracts a broad spectrum of needs, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, traumatic brain injury, and a myriad of other physical injuries. The Xena Project is focused on five fundamental programs – Veterans Group Days, Veterans Private Sessions, Family Reunification, Counseling, and Animal Encounter Therapy; art therapy is incorporated into each offering. The inclusion of cutting-edge simulation technology makes them uniquely able to serve individuals with traumatic physical or brain injury.
In 2015, the first year in operation, The Xena Project welcomed more than 500 veterans and family members.
The veterans they serve, especially those struggling with PTSD, must develop new tools and skill sets in order to reach and maintain health, or, in dire cases, stay alive.
More than 80% of veterans participating in programs at The Xena Project served in combat, including Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan; more than one third of participating veterans served in Vietnam. They value the increasing role of Vietnam veterans in their organization as a mark of trust. Several dozen have shared that they chose The Xena Project over other organizations because they are run by veterans with diverse service experience; many of our private donors share that the “veterans serving veterans” model is also why they choose to support us over other organizations.
Meet “Xena,” a fully interactive riding simulator that boasts state-of-the-art technology not found in any other riding program in the country.
Imported from Europe in September 2013 and housed in a climate-controlled room with mirrors on both sides, Xena is approximately 15 hands tall. She is fully interactive, meaning that she rides like a “live” horse and responds to cues from the hands, legs, and seat. Multiple sensors located in the saddle, head, bit, neck, and sides provide instant feedback about the rider’s balance and posture, weight distribution, use of the hands and reins, and leg pressure and position. Mirrors on both sides allow the rider to see their own position at all times. Xena is capable of performing all gaits and major movements. A 48″ wide, 5-foot long hydraulic lift allows for easy mounting by those who use wheelchairs, canes, prosthetics, or other aids.
Xena is primarily used to teach mind-body awareness and control. By learning how their body responds to thoughts and emotions, individuals are empowered to break cycles of anxiety, depression, anger, or PTSD symptoms. As the rider becomes more aware, they can increase control over the physical body and, in turn, the heart and mind. Riding sessions are often coupled with yoga, guided stretching, or meditation to enhance relaxation and calm.
Here’s one veteran’s personal testimonial of the Xena Project:
“I wanted to die,” shared Army veteran Cameron Phillips of the time following his service in Afghanistan, during ceremony remarks. “I was estranged from my wife and children, turning to drugs and alcohol. I was homeless for about five months. I kept hearing about the PTSD Foundation of America and Camp Hope from people I met. When I finally went, they accepted me without judgment. Now I stand healthy and whole, and programs like The Xena Project continue that healing process. I am really excited they are joining together in a formal capacity; together they can make an even bigger difference.”
The fact is 22 veterans commit suicide every day. Veterans report feeling unsupported and isolated. The Xena Project fulfills the need to provide various programs that will welcome veterans with PTSD and other injuries.
The Founder of The Xena Project, Jan Shultis, is a daughter of a career Marine, and herself a Navy veteran who served with the Army in Afghanistan.
“The Xena Project facilitates healing for veterans and their families with a focus on long-term relationships,” says Jan Shultis. “We can think of no better ally in the fight to strengthen the minds, hearts, and spirits of our fellow veterans than the PTSD Foundation of America. We are an organization where veterans serve veterans; we believe in the healing power of community.”
“Find your passion, and use that energy to share what you know about horses with people you truly care about,” encouraged Shultis. “You are blessed to grow up with horses, but not everyone is that way; not everyone has experienced a horse’s healing magic. Share what you know, share what you have, and you will change lives.”
Absolutely Jan! This project should be supported nationwide to help all our veterans. We salute you and all those involved in The Xena Project! Thank you for serving our country and for your continued support and care of our veterans. God Bless you and God Bless America!
Learn more at xenahorse.com.
Special thanks to Michael Grambush for sharing the story and pictures of The Xena Project with us.