OREGON CITY, Ore. (KOIN) — Alex Hussey got on his horse, Sonny, and smiled.
“I’m Superman!” he said. Sonny nodded.
In July, the 23-year-old veteran began coming to Sycamore Lane, a therapeutic riding center in Oregon City that started a program for veterans in January 2014.There are several different programs for veterans – horse care, therapeutic riding and equine-assisted counseling.
He hopes the program will help him build the physical strength he needs to one day walk again.
His time in Afghanistan
Hussey, a member of the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, loved parachuting and was sent to Afghanistan.
His life changed forever on August 7, 2012.
“I got blowed up,” he told KOIN 6 News. “Basically a big old bomb on the ground hit me and my unit. I was the worst injured of all of them. Give me a brain injury.”
He also lost both legs and most of his left hand when he stepped on the IED during ground patrol.
“It’s been very difficult,” he said. Now confined to a wheelchair, riding Sonny at Sycamore Lane gives him a feeling of freedom.
Trained volunteers walk with him as he rides Sonny around the arena. His short term goal is “to be able to ride independently, but that’s not going to be for a while.”
He is building strength and balance.
When he began riding about 2 months ago, he was only able to stay on the horse for about 5 minutes. Now he’s able to stay on Sonny for about 40 minutes.
Lisa Goebel, the veterans program coordinator at Sycamore Lane, said she wanted to start the program after seeing news reports “about veterans who were coming home with pretty severe PTSD symptoms, but really struggling to find services.”
The veterans who go to the program respond well, she said.
“Getting out and experiencing nature and bonding with an animal, I think, goes back to our roots as humans. … It’s pretty amazing. A lot of the veterans, when they come, they may be very shy or they don’t smile a lot. They really just come here and they open up.”
It’s also a very good workout.
Riding horses “really improves a lot of balance and coordination. Horses are really great for building motor skills,” Goebel said.
The riding helps build core strength, “so for a person wheel-chair bound just sitting on the horse and having to use all the stabilization muscles we use every day but don’t really think about, the horse stimulates the use of those muscles in a safe manner.”
His wife and mother
Alex Hussey met his future wife, Kim, in middle school. They went to high school together and started dating after graduation. A year later he was injured.
“He’s my best friend,” Kim Hussey told KOIN 6 News. “We’ve been through a lot together.”
She admits it hasn’t been easy, “but in the end it’s worth it because he’s still here. We’re just very happy he’s still here and he’s getting better.”
Kim said every time Alex goes to Sycamore Lane, “he lights up when he sees Sonny.”
He’s brave and has a smile on his face every day, she said. He’s strong and has a good sense of humor.
“The hardest part is watching Alex struggle. He struggles a lot with learning how to do things again.”
His mom, Caree Doll, watched him ride for the first time recently and said she knows why he comes home with a smile on his face after being on Sonny. And she said he will walk again.
“He’s determined. He’s stubborn. He’ll do it. He made up his mind he’s going to walk,” she said.
A new trail
Sycamore Lane’s Goebel had an idea for an outdoor trail course for the vets and horses, “something a little more adult-challenged” for the vets to work on beyond riding in a round pen.
The trail, which was dedicated Thursday evening, goes over bridges and teeter-totters. It gives the riders more of a challenge and helps to create a bond between rider and horse.
The obstacles were built in a partnership with the Home Depot in Oregon City — a business known for their work with veterans.
All veterans are welcome at the therapeutic riding center, Goebel said.
“We (also) serve all people that have physical disabilities, mental health (concerns), foster kids, families,” she said, adding, “We’re always looking for volunteers.”
As for Alex Hussey, Sycamore Lane is a place that is helping him to literally get back on his feet.
“I like it. I love it. I want some more of it,” he said with a laugh.
He’ll be back next week to ride and work with Sonny. For now, though, he told KOIN 6 News, “This is Alex Hussey, signing off!”