+
More

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."

Nature

Pennsylvania home is the entrance to a cave that’s been closed for 70 years

You can only access the cave from the basement of the home and it’s open for business.

This Pennsylvania home is the entrance to a cave.

Have you ever seen something in a movie or online and thought, "That's totally fake," only to find out it's absolutely a real thing? That's sort of how this house in Pennsylvania comes across. It just seems too fantastical to be real, and yet somehow it actually exists.

The home sits between Greencastle and Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, and houses a pretty unique public secret. There's a cave in the basement. Not a man cave or a basement that makes you feel like you're in a cave, but an actual cave that you can't get to unless you go through the house.

Turns out the cave was discovered in the 1830s on the land of John Coffey, according to Uncovering PA, but the story of how it was found is unclear. People would climb down into the cave to explore occasionally until the land was leased about 100 years later and a small structure was built over the cave opening.

Keep ReadingShow less
Pop Culture

Linda Ronstadt's 1970's ballad is a chart-topping hit once again thanks to 'The Last of Us'

The iconic 70s song "Long, Long Time" was an integral part of an unforgettable episode that fans are calling a masterpiece.

Linda Ronstadt (left), Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett (right)

HBO’s emotional third episode of the zombie series “The Last Of Us” became an instant favorite among fans, thanks in no small part to Linda Ronstadt’s late 1970s ballad, “Long, Long Time.”

Using the song as the episode’s title, “Long, Long Time,” moves away from the show’s main plot to instead focus on a heartbreakingly beautiful love story between Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett), from its endearing start all the way to its bittersweet end.

The song makes its first appearance during the initial stages of Bill and Frank’s romance as they play the tune on the piano, just before they share their first kiss.

We see their entire lives together play out—one of closeness, devotion, and savoring homegrown strawberries—until they meet their end. The song then plays on the radio, bringing the bottle episode to a poignant close.

Keep ReadingShow less
Pop Culture

13-year-old ventriloquist sings incredible, sassy version of 'You Don't Own Me' on 'AGT'

Ana-Maria Mărgean only started her hobby in 2020 and is already wowing audiences on "America's Got Talent."

America's Got Talent/Youtube

Ana-Maria Mărgean singing "You Don't Own Me" on "America's Got Talent"

It’s not every day a ventriloquist act is so jaw-dropping that it has to be seen to be believed. But when it does happen, it’s usually on “America’s Got Talent.”

Ana-Maria Mărgean was only 11 years old when she first took to the stage on “Romania’s Got Talent” to show off her ventriloquism skills, an act inspired by videos of fellow ventriloquist and “America’s Got Talent” Season 2 champion Terry Fator.

Using puppets built for her by her parents, the young performer tirelessly spent her quarantine time in 2020 learning how to bring them to life, which led to her receiving a Golden Buzzer and eventually winning the entire series in Romania.

Mărgean is now 13 and a competitor on this season of “America’s Got Talent: All-Stars,” hoping to be crowned the winner and perform her own show in Vegas, just like her hero Fator.

Keep ReadingShow less
Joy

34-year-old man is learning to read on TikTok in series of motivational videos

His reading skills have improved so much that he plans to read 100 books this year.

@oliverspeaks1/TikTok

Oliver James is the biggest star on BookTok.

With over 125,000 followers, 34-year-old Oliver James is a star in the BookTok community. And it all started with a very simple goal: Learn to read.

For most kids, school is a place where they can develop a relationship with learning in a safe environment. For James, school was the opposite. Growing up with learning and behavior disabilities subjected him to abusive teaching practices in special education, which, of course, did nothing to help.

"The special education system at the time was more focused on behavioral than educating," he told Good Morning America. "So they spent a lotta time restraining us, a lotta time disciplining us, a lotta times putting us in positions to kinda shape us to just not act out in class."

Keep ReadingShow less
Pop Culture

Buffy Sainte-Marie shares what led to her openly breastfeeding on 'Sesame Street' in 1977

The way she explained to Big Bird what she was doing is still an all-time great example.

"Sesame Street" taught kids about life in addition to letters and numbers.

In 1977, singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie did something revolutionary: She fed her baby on Sesame Street.

The Indigenous Canadian-Ameican singer-songwriter wasn't doing anything millions of other mothers hadn't done—she was simply feeding her baby. But the fact that she was breastfeeding him was significant since breastfeeding in the United States hit an all-time low in 1971 and was just starting to make a comeback. The fact that she did it openly on a children's television program was even more notable, since "What if children see?" has been a key pearl clutch for people who criticize breastfeeding in public.

But the most remarkable thing about the "Sesame Street" segment was the lovely interchange between Big Bird and Sainte-Marie when he asked her what she was doing.

Keep ReadingShow less
via Pexels

A couple celebrates while packing their home.

One of the topics that we like to highlight on Upworthy is people who are redefining what it means to be in a relationship. Recently, we’ve shared the stories of platonic life partners, moms who work together as part of a “mommune” and a polyamorous family with four equally-committed parents.

A growing number of people are reevaluating traditional relationships and entering lifestyles that work for them instead of trying to fit into preexisting roles. It makes sense because the more lifestyle options that are available, the greater chance we have to be happy.

A recent trend in unconventional relationships is married couples "living apart together," or LATs as they are known among mental health professionals.

Actress Helena Bonham Carter and director Tim Burton, actress Gwyneth Paltrow and producer Brad Falchuk, and photographer Annie Leibovitz and activist Susan Sontag are all high-profile couples who’ve embraced the LAT lifestyle.

Keep ReadingShow less