What convinced Staff Sgt. Samuel Tiner he needed help for post-traumatic stress disorder was when his wife was going somewhere and one of his children did not want to stay home with him.
"That is what opened my eyes," Tiner said.
Tiner has been deployed five times, and it was after his second that his wife, Noelle, began to notice changes in his personality. He was very tense all the time.
"I was not very patient with people in general," he said.
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Those suffering from PTSD are often anxious, jittery and depressed. They tend to have negative feelings and show a sense of hopelessness.
Tiner found help in 2008 when he got involved with Warrior Outreach Inc., a nonprofit organization.
Its founder, Sam Rhodes, a command sergeant major now retired from the Army, discovered that being around horses helped him with his own struggles, and he decided it could help fellow soldiers as well.
"When I need to think, I head to the stable," Rhodes said.
Rhodes is a veteran of 29 years and currently serves as comprehensive soldier and family fitness manager at Fort Benning.
In the past seven years, soldiers and veterans, along with their families, have been to the 20-acre ranch home in Fortson,, Ga., that is home to Rhodes, his wife, Cathy, and 14 horses. Thousands have taken advantage of what Warrior Outreach offers.
Rhodes said he fills a vital need, as 20 percent of soldiers returning from Iraq or Afghanistan show signs of PTSD, and an average of 22 veterans commit suicide daily.
The main focus of Warrior Outreach is to assist soldiers and families in transitioning and adjusting to life after traumatic occurrences and family separation due to deployments. The horsemanship program is designed to provide support, similar to equine therapy, as soldiers care for and ride the animals.
Rhodes and Tiner both said interaction with horses relaxes people, and working with them is a positive experience.
People with PTSD often find it difficult to concentrate. "You must stay focused when dealing with a horse," Rhodes said. "You can't be thinking about your problems."
Tiner now owns three of the animals. "Horses can feel a person's anxiety and stress," he said.
Though they weigh about 1,000 pounds each, Tiner calls them "big teddy bears."
"Horses are a great outlet," Rhodes said. "Soldiers can use them to promote quality family time, provide structure and well-needed family therapy. We want others to go down the path of building resilience and enhancing their performance through their own works on a daily basis."
On Saturday, the public can get an idea of what goes on at Warrior Outreach during a free special horsemanship event from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the ranch, 6350 Ga. 219.
Families can come out and learn some basic horsemanship skills with hands-on training as well as trail rides and pony rides in a pen.
The event is not all about horses. There will be bands playing and games. Home Depot in Phenix City will provide an opportunity for children to build items such as pencil holders.
Warrior Outreach, supported financially by the Rhodeses and donations, is more than just horses.
There is an outreach center, a clubhouse where families can come for various activities.
"People are here every day," Rhodes said.
Rhodes and volunteers do repairs at the homes of veterans.
He feels the interaction helps creates positive memories and gives those with PTSD a feeling of belonging. "It is important to show them how important life is," Rhodes said. "They have to see something good, something positive."
He laughed and said some who visit "don't want to leave."
Rhodes said he once came out to the front gate and found a soldier asleep in his car.
"He just felt comfortable here," Rhodes said. "Someone has a bad day, they come out here."
His wife agrees. "Many come and just want someone to listen to them," Cathy Rhodes said.
Speaking about the interaction with others at Warrior Outreach, Tiner said, "Everyone here is family."
There is a book in the center where those spending time there can leave a message. Most say something like "awesome experience."
One says, "I am honored to be a small part of what you are doing here. This is truly God's work."