Thursday, 06 June 2024 12:34

Alliance180-Providing A Transformative Equine Experience for Veterans and First Responders

By Christine Graf | Editorials
Photos by  Tracey Buyce Photography Photos by Tracey Buyce Photography

Bob Nevins was working as a commercial pilot for American Airlines when he cashed in his retirement, using the proceeds to establish a non-profit to help Veterans with post-traumatic stress. Since that time, Nevins, the founder of Alliance180, has worked with more than 800 Veterans. His non-profit recently expanded its reach to include first responders and frontline healthcare workers, and all services are provided free of charge.

A Vietnam Veteran, Nevins served as a medevac helicopter pilot in the 101st Airborne, flying into combat zones to evacuate wounded soldiers. Despite enduring multiple traumas while in Vietnam, Nevins said he never experienced significant struggles with post-traumatic stress after returning to civilian life. 

“I would say my mental health was good, and I attribute this to the work I did in Vietnam,” Nevins said.  “I wasn’t involved in the war as much as I witnessed the devastation of it and was right in the middle of it. But, my job was to save lives.”

In 2004, at a time when a record number of Vietnam Veterans were taking their own lives, Nevins read an article about a technique that enabled humans to communicate with horses in a non-threatening way. Armed with nothing more than curiosity and what he had learned from the article, he performed the technique by going into a round pen with a horse that belonged to a friend. 

“When I did the technique, I found it to be so powerful emotionally that I began to wonder if I could teach it to other Veterans and if it would have the same kind of impact that it had on me.”

For Nevins, the next step was to find someone who could help him create an equine program for Veterans. That person was Melody Squier, an equine specialist, equine linguist, equine dentist, and farrier.

In 2011, Nevins and Squier joined forces with Janelle Huggard, Alliance180’s Assistant Program Director, and began laying the groundwork to establish a non-profit. Using the funds from Nevins’ retirement account, they created a three-day equine experience that includes a classroom element as well as one-on-one time in the round pen with a retired thoroughbred. 

Nevins describes the Alliance180 experience–one that takes place between man and horse–as so powerful that it is capable of triggering a reregulation of the autonomic nervous system. Their initial results were so incredible that word of their work began to spread quickly in the Veteran community.

 “We had so many Veterans calling us that I had to quit my airline job just to accommodate all of them. I went all in because we were getting results,” Nevins said. 

When describing the Alliance180 program, Squier said it is rooted in the principles of natural horsemanship, a philosophy based on a horse’s natural instincts, methods of communication, body language, and herd dynamic.

While in the round pen with a horse, participants apply what they have learned during the classroom element of the program. Squier is there with them to provide cues and support. The experience is unique to each individual who enters the round pen.

The hundreds of Veterans who have completed the program have achieved such significant results that North Carolina non-profit Stop Soldier Suicide is now referring their clients to Alliance180, and VFW’s throughout New York have committed to supporting the non-profit. 

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