Veteran with PTSD offering others chance to heal with equine therapy

"The horses are a mirror of ourselves ... the troops understand the herd and the herd mentality," veteran says of how equine therapy helped him treat his PTSD. Now, he's opening up his Quesnel ranch to other vets in an effort to help them.

Pilot program in Quesnel, B.C., begins Sunday with 10 veterans from across Canada

Veteran Paul Nicholls poses with his faithful steed, Zoe, as they rode through Kelowna back in April 2015 for Nicholls' ride across Canada. (CBC)

Six months after his ride across Canada, Paul Nicholls is using his ranch in Quesnel, B.C., to help veterans struggling with PTSD.

More than a year ago, Nicholls hopped on the back of his horse, Zoe, and rode all the way from Victoria to St. John's in an effort to raise PTSD awareness and show fellow veterans there is help to handle their PTSD.

Nicholls is an army veteran who struggled with PTSD after serving overseas in the 1990s, and found horse riding therapy helped him.

"We've got troops coming from across Canada ... It's about learning how we react, what our go-to reactions can be, when the stress level comes up," Nicholls told Radio West guest host Josh Pagé.

"The horses are a mirror of ourselves ... the troops understand the herd and the herd mentality. There's so many parallels between a herd of horses and a platoon of infantry, for instance. We respect strong leadership, we respect a plan, we respect a leader who will carry out that plan and be able to communicate that plan in a mindful manner."

Nicholls said the idea was developed during his cross-Canada ride, which saw veterans of contemporary wars invited to join him for stretches along the way.

"We realized we had started something way bigger than us, and it was really just a new beginning," he said. "This thing has just sort of evolved organically, and here we are today, running a program."

That program officially begins May 22 as a pilot with 10 veterans embarking on a six-day therapy program.

Nicholls says a University of Manitoba researcher will evaluate the pilot program to see if it should be expanded.

With files from CBC Radio One's Radio West