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A woman stopped Christianna Capra at the Marine Ball. "Thank you for saving my husband's life," the stranger said, before giving her a big hug.

It wasn't the first time Capra had been thanked so profusely. It won't be the last.

As the co-founder of Spring Reins of Life, a New Jersey nonprofit focused on equine-assisted psychotherapy, she has helped more than 700 combat veterans, nearly 1,000 high-risk youth, and 100 kids grieving or dealing with trauma. But Capra takes little of the credit.


"The horses are the ones that do the work," she says. "I'm merely a conduit that allows them to do the work."

In the video below, veterans take part in Spring Reins of Life's "Operation Horse." Read on to discover how this life-changing program came to be.

Christianna "CC" Capra literally grew up a horse-person — well, almost.

"From about the age of 2 to about 6, I became a horse," Capra says with a laugh. "You had to feed me out of your hand and I wore one of my mother's hair pieces — as a tail. So that was kind of how it started."

She was obsessed. Capra found ways to be around horses as much as possible and she got her own at 11 years old. Soon after though, she had to give up horses when she moved to New York in high school. It would be nearly a decade before Capra would be back in the saddle. In 1997, her job in publicity helped her afford her "horse habit" again, and Capra purchased a horse that's still with her today.

But it was an offhand suggestion at the veterinarian's office that led Capra to her life's work.

Through one of her veterinarians, Capra learned about the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA). Founded in 1999, EAGALA is an international nonprofit association for professionals interested in using horses to address mental health needs.

"I read the website start to finish and I pulled out my wallet and my credit card that night and signed up for both trainings, sight unseen," she says. "I knew, beyond any shadow of a doubt, this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. It was a cathartic moment."

Capra and Haines in the stables. All images via Upworthy/YouTube.

Capra trained as an EAGALA-certified equine facilitator and started her own nonprofit, Spring Reins of Life.

Spring Reins of Life offers equine-assisted psychotherapy for combat veterans with PTSD, children dealing with grief or emotional trauma, and kids in high-risk situations, such as teen violence and crime or substance abuse. Capra, together with licensed mental health professionals and the horses, works with individuals to talk (or not talk) through their grief, concerns, and fears. The group format session for veterans is dubbed "Operation Horse."

"We don't do a lot of talking," Capra says. "What we do is that if the horses start to bring up something, either if they express verbally or we see physically, we might ask some questions about that. 'So what's happening with this horse right now?' And then let [the veterans] project whatever they need to onto the horse and we can talk about it."

The unique thing about EAGALA-certified programs like Spring Reins is that there's actually no horseback-riding.

While Capra admits there is great value in therapeutic programs that offer riding, EAGALA programs are different in that they encourage individuals and horses to be on equal footing, untethered to one another.

"We work in an enclosed space, but the horses are loose. And the clients are loose too," she says. "We're all loose in this space; we call it our community."

Since 2012, Spring Reins of Life has helped around 700 veterans in the New Jersey area.

"Once we come home, the war's not really over. It's very tough to deal with a lot of the issues that we have," says Andrew Haines, an Army calvary scout. "Every time I leave [Spring Reins], my anxiety always goes down. I always feel more relaxed, more calm, more confident that I can do things."

Michael Otto Steiger, a Marine Corps Veteran, tends to a horse.

Though Capra has no military background, she'd heard of the troubling statistics surrounding the number of combat veterans living with PTSD and depression. The latest figures estimate 20 military veterans die by suicide each day. Capra knew she had to do something. Today, Spring Reins of Life is the first and only EAGALA approved military service provider in New Jersey.

Spring Reins has a contract with the Lyons campus of the local VA health care system. Veterans from their in-patient PTSD clinic come to Operation Horse once or twice during their 45- to 60-day stays. Homeless veterans from Lyons' domiciliary program, who reside for up to a year, visit Spring Reins even more. Now, local vets with PTSD have started coming to "open" sessions at Spring Reins to work with the facilitators and horses as often as they need to. The mental health professional assisting Capra with Operation Horse is Maria Katsamanis, a licensed psychologist and National Guard veteran. Everything is HIPPA compliant and sessions are not open to the public.

"Being out here, I don't feel like a person with PTSD," Michael Otto Steiger a U.S. Marine Corps veteran says. "I just feel ... average or normal."

But Capra may not be able to keep Spring Reins open and operating without a miracle.

Little by little, Capra has dedicated her life and everything in it to making Spring Reins of Life a reality. It hasn't been an easy journey.

"I went through my 401(k), then my savings, then I trashed my credit, then I sold my jewelry, and parts of my wardrobe that were worth any money, then I sold my horse's wardrobe, and my home in New York," she says. "It's a test of faith and those jumps you make when you're following your purpose."

Spring Reins needs to find a new facility by April 1. Finding a new place to call home may be a challenge as indoor and outdoor arenas, offices and meeting rooms, a pasture, stables, storage, restrooms, and possibly even living space are needed. Location is critical too.

"It took us four years to get a contract with the VA. We really do have to stay local," Capra says. "A radius of North Mercer County, North and East Hunterdon County, and Somerset County [New Jersey] — that puts me under an hour from Lyons."

For now, Capra prays and she works. She believes in the program, and like the veterans she serves, she's not going down without a fight.

"I believe in my heart there is the perfectly facility out there," she says.

Capra continues to search for it and is following every lead. She is optimistic that the perfect spot will come her way. But if she can't find one, and Spring Reins has to shutter indefinitely, her equine therapy work will continue in some capacity or another.

"Even if I had to close my doors, which I can't even fathom the idea of that, but even if I did; I would live the rest of my life with that purpose," Capra says. "We are saving lives right now. If that's one a month, or one a week, or one a year even, I think that's worth it."

All images provided by Bombas

We can all be part of the giving movement

True

We all know that small acts of kindness can turn into something big, but does that apply to something as small as a pair of socks?

Yes, it turns out. More than you might think.

A fresh pair of socks is a simple comfort easily taken for granted for most, but for individuals experiencing homelessness—they are a rare commodity. Currently, more than 500,000 people in the U.S. are experiencing homelessness on any given night. Being unstably housed—whether that’s couch surfing, living on the streets, or somewhere in between—often means rarely taking your shoes off, walking for most if not all of the day, and having little access to laundry facilities. And since shelters are not able to provide pre-worn socks due to hygienic reasons, that very basic need is still not met, even if some help is provided. That’s why socks are the #1 most requested clothing item in shelters.

homelessness, bombasSocks are a simple comfort not everyone has access to

When the founders of Bombas, Dave Heath and Randy Goldberg, discovered this problem, they decided to be part of the solution. Using a One Purchased = One Donated business model, Bombas helps provide not only durable, high-quality socks, but also t-shirts and underwear (the top three most requested clothing items in shelters) to those in need nationwide. These meticulously designed donation products include added features intended to offer comfort, quality, and dignity to those experiencing homelessness.

Over the years, Bombas' mission has grown into an enormous movement, with more than 75 million items donated to date and a focus on providing support and visibility to the organizations and people that empower these donations. These are the incredible individuals who are doing the hard work to support those experiencing —or at risk of—homelessness in their communities every day.

Folks like Shirley Raines, creator of Beauty 2 The Streetz. Every Saturday, Raines and her team help those experiencing homelessness on Skid Row in Los Angeles “feel human” with free makeovers, haircuts, food, gift bags and (thanks to Bombas) fresh socks. 500 pairs, every week.

beauty 2 the streetz, skid row laRaines is out there helping people feel their beautiful best

Or Director of Step Forward David Pinson in Cincinnati, Ohio, who offers Bombas donations to those trying to recover from addiction. Launched in 2009, the Step Forward program encourages participation in community walking/running events in order to build confidence and discipline—two major keys to successful rehabilitation. For each marathon, runners are outfitted with special shirts, shoes—and yes, socks—to help make their goals more achievable.

step forward, helping homelessness, homeless non profitsRunning helps instill a sense of confidence and discipline—two key components of successful recovery

Help even reaches the Front Street Clinic of Juneau, Alaska, where Casey Ploof, APRN, and David Norris, RN give out free healthcare to those experiencing homelessness. Because it rains nearly 200 days a year there, it can be very common for people to get trench foot—a very serious condition that, when left untreated, can require amputation. Casey and Dave can help treat trench foot, but without fresh, clean socks, the condition returns. Luckily, their supply is abundant thanks to Bombas. As Casey shared, “people will walk across town and then walk from the valley just to come here to get more socks.”

step forward clinic, step forward alaska, homelessness alaskaWelcome to wild, beautiful and wet Alaska!

The Bombas Impact Report provides details on Bombas’s mission and is full of similar inspiring stories that show how the biggest acts of kindness can come from even the smallest packages. Since its inception in 2013, the company has built a network of over 3,500 Giving Partners in all 50 states, including shelters, nonprofits and community organizations dedicated to supporting our neighbors who are experiencing- or at risk- of homelessness.

Their success has proven that, yes, a simple pair of socks can be a helping hand, an important conversation starter and a link to humanity.

You can also be a part of the solution. Learn more and find the complete Bombas Impact Report by clicking here.

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