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Donna's Story

Donna Bell was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from Military Sexual Trauma after suffering severe flashbacks brought on by the #MeToo movement in 2018.


Read her story in her own words.

"I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from Military Sexual Trauma (MST) after suffering severe flashbacks brought on by the #metoo movement media coverage in 2018. I had a visceral reaction to what I was hearing and seeing because it happened to me multiple times. I developed severe anxiety becoming confused in a permanent state of fight, flight or freeze without control over my thoughts, feeling or emotions. I lost my job, my relationships and my identity after keeping multiple traumas locked away for 40 years and having it unleashed.


After antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications while completing a one-year Trauma Recovery Program, I did not get relief from my symptoms. In fact, they became worse and alternative treatments for veteran PTSD were recommended. My doctor handed me a flyer from Saratoga WarHorse Program. Horses? All my preconceived notions about horses ran through my hyper vigilant mind but was willing to try anything for relief.

"I began to feel safe."

I was very anxious upon arrival to Aiken. It took until the next day for me to get adjust to being out of my element when I realized that I was in a non-sterile environment with fellow comrades suffering from some of the same symptoms as I do without judgement from any of the staff, horse experts or volunteers. I began to feel safe.


My horse's name was John Barleycorn. Before I went into the ring with JB tears began to fall because I was going to have to bond with this horse and I did not want to bond with anything or anyone.


I took the reins, walked in the ring and looked at JB as if to say 'we have a mission here so let's do this'. He responded by matching his energy to mine which immediately caused my head to rise and my chest followed. As if in slow motion I planted each step of my boot firmly on the ground as if I belonged there. I was in control of a 1,200 lb animal that I had never met before without saying a word because he had shown his trust in me when I didn't even trust myself.

"I am alive today because of the Saratoga WarHorse program."


I went home that day and started putting my Christmas decorations away--it was March--and began practicing self care. I have been able to walk my dog, travel to see my family and no longer take medications. With the ever present support of my twin brother, I can be with you today. 


I keep a photo of John Barleycorn close by to remind myself that I am alive today because of the Saratoga WarHorse Program.You will not only remain in my heart but you are a part of my soul. I cannot thank you enough for giving me my life back."

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