Scott Brodie has been told hundreds of times by veterans that he has saved their lives, which is something he does not take for granted.
Veterans and first responders have come to him through the charity Horse Aid, formerly known as the Thoroughbred and Veteran Welfare Alliance, which he founded with Adrian Talbot.
Having been a senior constable with NSW Police as part of the Mounted Police and a senior horse trainer and riding instructor, he saw the traumas veterans and first responders went through and the need to offer alternate support to get them back on their feet.
The classically trained rider and instructor with the Equestrian Federation of Australia, who is also trains horses at the Heartland Horse Farm in Sutton Forest, also saw the traumas racehorses faced once they stopped competing.
Those who have struggled with post-traumatic stress injuries, anxiety and depression and have perhaps not found other methods such as counselling or medication effective, can take part in a one day or five day program for free to learn horsemanship skills and connect with the animals.
It is important to bring the two vulnerable groups together to help one another transition to everyday life, and show people they were not alone in their struggles.
"They've been trained for a special purpose, they're institutionalised, there's empathy from veterans," he said.
Through the program, which has been running since 2014, more than 500 former racehorses have been rehomed and retrained, and many veterans have volunteered with the organisation, learned more about the industry, or pursued other careers.
A person's experiences were not essential for the trainer to know - he knew they were there because of their struggles, and was open to learning more if they were comfortable to share it.
"These guys have been therapied out," he said.
The unique equine therapy initiative with a "point of difference" is the focus of the documentary The Healing, which was shot in Kangaroo Valley shot and made by Staunch Films.
When director, writer and producer Nick Barkla went to film the program as a way to raise awareness for it in 2016, his initial intention was to stay for a couple of days, not knowing much about it.
Going there as an observer in the background, his team developed and earned their trust and ended up documenting their journeys of more than three years.
"I could see very quickly how the veterans and first responders benefited when they were with him in two days," the director and producer of The Healing said.
"PTSD is a journey, not a destination," Mr Brodie said.
The film has won the Beyond Blue Prize for 'Best Film about Hope and Resilience' at the Veterans Film Festival in Sydney in 2022, along with other awards.
It has also been screened at Parliament House, and also for the staff of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide.
According to statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, there were 1600 certified deaths by suicide among Australian Defence Force members between 1997 and 2020.
During this period and compared to the general population, ex-serving males had a higher rate of suicide by 27 per cent and 107 per cent higher for women who have served.
"[It's] important audience[s are] empathetic and understand that serving your country and community comes at an enormous cost," Mr Barkla said, and called lack of support for veterans a "national disgrace".
The documentary has also been screened across the country to positive reviews, and will also make its way to Bowral this weekend.
People can watch it on November 26 at 4.30pm at the Empire Cinemas.
Tickets are $25 each and can be purchased via good.film/thehealing.
For those who want to learn more and support the program, they can head to horseaid.org.au.
- Support is available for those who may be distressed. Phone Lifeline 13 11 14; Mensline 1300 789 978; beyondblue 1300 224 636; and Open Arms (veterans and families counselling) 24/7 on 1800 011 046.
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