By Suzanne Le Mignot

CHICAGO (CBS) — The veterans at Hines VA Medical Center near Maywood had some very special visitors Wednesday — horses. The pair helped the veterans forget about their medical conditions for a moment, along with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A veteran at the residential care facility the hospital was wheeled outside into the sunshine. The staff said this veteran rarely smiles. He’s confined to his bed. As he saw therapy horses, Hank and Winston, the veteran clapped, sang and smiled. It’s a moment not lost on handler Amber Eck with BraveHearts Therapeutic Riding and Educational Center.

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“It’s really hard not to get teary eyed actually,” she said. “Seeing their reactions, then you know, walking into this courtyard area and seeing all the vets just really excited, dancing and clapping. It’s indescribable.”

This was the first time the nonprofit provided equine therapy at Hines during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the 100 veterans taking part in this moment was Airman 1st Class Reginald Morris.

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“It brought back memories of when I was small,” said the Air Force Veteran. “When I was about 9 years old, Washington Park was an area in Chicago that in the summer time, they had horses for the children to ride, and I think it was something like a quarter.”

Morris is an amputee and needs a wheelchair. He said this moment not only provided nostalgia but also something else.

“It take your mind off medical problems and the COVID virus and things of that nature, so we’re just enjoying,” he said.

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“The benefits are truly, truly endless,” said Eck.These horses have a way of knowing exactly what you need, without you even knowing it. Horses have a unique ability actually be able to sync their heart rate to your own, so they can handle anxieties, they can handle trauma. I have multitude of veterans tell me, they’re able to start trusting again.”

Suzanne Le Mignot