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  • Writer's pictureRay Sanford

Overcoming PTSD

© The Orange County Register

Paul Worley, a retired Gunnery Sergeant from the United States Marine Corps and the Barn Manager at The Shea Center, has a story that strikes a chord deep within the hearts of many. Having served several tours of duty over a distinguished 20-year career, Worley's journey didn't just stop at his retirement. It evolved, leading him to a place where the scars of service, specifically those left by PTSD, began to heal in a way he hadn't imagined possible.

Last year, he shared this profound journey with the San Juan Capistrano Rotary Club, revealing the pivotal role The Shea Center's "Stars & Stripes" program played in his recovery.

The transition from military to civilian life is often a monumental challenge for veterans. It's not just about adjusting to a different pace of life but relearning how to connect with the world, with family, and with oneself outside the structured environment of the armed forces. The Shea Center understands this transition and has crafted a sanctuary not just for healing but for rediscovery and growth.

At the heart of The Shea Center's approach is the horse—a creature whose partnership offers more than just therapy. It's about connection. The center's expert staff and dedicated volunteers create a nurturing environment where learning, achievement, healing, and fun converge, specifically tailored for the military community. This isn't just about riding; it's about forging a bond with the horses that is both peaceful and transformative.

But why horses? The answer lies in the unique therapeutic experiences these noble animals provide. The programs designed by The Shea Center's skilled team utilize horseback riding to foster physical improvements in strength, balance, motor planning, and coordination. Yet, the benefits extend far beyond the physical realm. Cognitive skills such as planning, judgment, memory, and attention are honed, and perhaps most importantly, the human-horse connection deepens social interactions, boosts self-confidence, and nurtures self-esteem. Riders, through this intimate bond with their horse, embark on a journey of self-discovery, gaining a newfound sense of independence and control over their lives.

Worley's message is a testament to the transformative power of this program. It's a reminder of the ongoing battles many veterans face upon returning home and the potent, healing nature of the bonds formed at The Shea Center. Through the "Stars & Stripes" program, veterans like Worley find not just recovery from the wounds of war, but a joyful, meaningful path forward into a life of renewed purpose and connection. Here's Paul's message:

“Hello Shea Family,


I wanted to let you know that I will be out of town this weekend. I am flying out on Friday morning and returning on Sunday night. Unfortunately, I will be attending the funeral of a Marine with whom I served [who committed suicide]. This situation has made me appreciate the importance of our military program even more. While I understand the reasons why some people make this choice, it is heartbreaking to experience. Many veterans across the country don’t have access to the types of programs we have here, leaving them often isolated and vulnerable. It is my hope that we can honor the sacrifice of those who have served by continuing to support our military programs. While some of you may not see the progress our Stars and Stripes program is making, I can promise you we are changing lives. I love you all and will see you next week.

Semper Fi,



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