Army Sgt. Christian Valle, who lost both his legs in Iraq, trots on a white Percheron horse, with help from members of the Old Guard at Arlington, Va.
The soldiers and the horses from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment at Arlington, also known as The Old Guard, are part of a pilot program at the WalterReedArmyMedicalCenter in nearby Washington to see if troops with prosthetic legs can regain some mobility through horseback riding.
The black and white horses usually are used to pull caissons during military funerals at neighboring ArlingtonNationalCemetery.
They are now also being used to help soldiers in their long struggle to learn to walk again, to regain strength and to believe in their new limbs.
Therapeutic riding is widely used for people with physical, emotional and mental disabilities, said Mary Jo Beckman, a therapeutic riding instructor.
People and horses walk using the same circular motion in their hips, she said, and riding on the back of a horse can help a person feel and recall that movement.
“Their bodies are getting moved as if they are walking when they are sitting on the horse,” Beckman said.
Spec. Maxwell Ramsey made small kissing sounds as he tried to coax Wylie, a muscular black Percheron horse, over to the platform where the soldier stood.
He swung the metal and plastic limb that is his new left leg over Wylie’s back and sat down in the saddle.
Soldiers from the unit walked alongside Ramsey and Wylie throughout the session in the yard surrounded by the brick stables that house the horses.
“It’s all about soldiers helping soldiers,” said Col. Bob Pricone, commander of the Old Guard.