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Community members rally to save Alberta therapy horse that helped with their PTSD

Purebred Canadian horse Regent was hooked up to an IV for roughly five days to help treat his impaction colic. (Submitted by Steve Critchley - image credit)
Purebred Canadian horse Regent was hooked up to an IV for roughly five days to help treat his impaction colic. (Submitted by Steve Critchley - image credit)

Community members across the country have come together to save the life of an Alberta therapy horse that helped save theirs.

Regent is one of more than a dozen horses that supports veterans and first responders living with PTSD, through free mental health programs with the charity Can Praxis.

During Alberta's recent cold snap, the 18-year-old therapy gelding fell ill with impaction colic — a blockage in his intestine that sent him to a specialized vet clinic in Calgary.

There, he was put on a gastric tube, administered an IV and given a plethora of medications to help with the colic and internal infections.

"It was a quite serious, life-threatening situation where we were at the point of looking at having to administer surgery," said Steve Critchley, the founder of Can Praxis and Regent's owner.

Regent with a participant from Ontario earlier this month, in Blackfalds, Alta.
Regent with a participant from Ontario earlier this month, in Blackfalds, Alta.

Regent with a therapy client from Ontario earlier this month, in Blackfalds, Alta. (Submitted by Steve Critchley)

The veterinary bills racked up.

That's when members of the public — many of whom had worked with Regent in the past — stepped in to cover the costs of the horse's medical treatment. They raised thousands of dollars.

Critchley said his family usually donates funds for care of the horses.

"This year, it's just become a little bit unattainable with the cost of feed and with this particular medical emergency," said Critchley.

"The offer to help with the cost was put forward and very much appreciated, and we're very humbled to see how people right across the country have stepped up with their concern and desire to help Regent."

He said he isn't surprised to see the community support, given Regent's gentle nature.

"He has the ability to make individuals that are actually quite scared of horses to feel calm and safe to the point where we actually have to stop them from trying to take him home in the trunk of their car," he said.

"[He has the] ability to read body language, look at faces, understand by looking at a face if someone's in stress or someone's relaxed, and intuitively know how to work with that individual to help them feel calm and confident."

Evan Wile can attest to that. He and his family worked with a number of horses last year when he was diagnosed with PTSD after serving in the Canadian Armed Forces for over two decades.

He said Regent was his favourite.

"He was such a great horse to work with ... he was just so crucial for setting the conditions for us to get the benefit out of the program," said Wile.

Evan Wile and his kids with Regent last year, when they completed two programs with Can Praxis.
Evan Wile and his kids with Regent last year, when they completed two programs with Can Praxis.

Evan Wile and his kids with Regent last year, when they completed two programs with Can Praxis. (Submitted by Steve Critchley)

Dave Murphy, from Claresholm, Alta., started the fundraiser for Regent, despite not being a veteran or a first responder.

Murphy said he's had PTSD for decades after he experienced a violent attack in Ottawa. Helping Regent was his way of paying it forward to first responders who kept him alive.

"This is close to my heart and I try and help them out however I can."

Back at Can Praxis, Critchley said Regent could be back home by the end of the week, on his way to a full recovery. If all goes to plan, he'll return to his work of helping Canadians with their mental health soon.

"[Our programs] are focused on the understanding that the brutal truth with PTSD is if you're not talking, you're going to die," said Critchley.

"So our focus is helping the injured re-learn how to have effective conversations with the person most important to them."