This life-changing program pairs combat vets with horses. The results are amazing.

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."

Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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