VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Their saddles are in place; their ropes and reins are secured. Horses at the Virginia Beach Mounted Police are ready to trot to work.
"Horses can create a bond with humans in a unique and special way," said Stacy Rogers with theVirginia Beach Equi-Kids and Equi-Vets Therapeutic Riding program.
The humans they're bonding with this week are officers who ran into Building 2 at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center two years ago duringthe mass shooting tragedy in Virginia Beachwhere 12 employees were gunned down.
"It is the worst possible incident we could have imagined, and it actually occurred that day," said Officer Lora Kreitzman with the Mounted Patrol.
Those officers who witnessed unthinkable horrors have the images branded in their brain, and with that comes anxiety, PTSD and other mental health issues.
"Horses feed off of the emotion of the rider, so you have to leave your struggles and anxiety at the door," Kreitzman said.
Leave your worries at the door, and come face to face with a 1,200-pound gentle giant.
This new pairing is part of a new program, the first of its kind in the nation, where Equi-Kids and Equi-Vets are teaming up with the Virginia Beach Mounted Patrol for this unique type of therapy.
"It not only gives [participants] an environment to de-stress and decompress, it helps them build confidence and learn a new skill," Kreitzman said.
"Horses are amazing. They can read a human's emotions and help respond to give them what they need or challenge them to heal when they are suffering from trauma," Rogers said.
The officers will first try their hands in the barn, then learn everything from groundwork horsemanship skills, to at the end of the 6-week program being able to fully mount and ride a horse.
Related: Equine therapeutic center welcomes back riders in Virginia Beach