PTSD (or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a diagnosis commonly associated with veterans, but it is a condition that can affect any individual. Annika Christensen is a teenager with PTSD that, like many veterans involved with equine-based therapy programs, is seeing tremendous benefit from her time with horses at the Cowichan Therapeutic Riding Association (CTRA).
Annika is a bright girl with a bubbly personality and an enthusiasm for activities (crafts, camping, cooking) with friends and family. A responsible young woman, Annika is a diligent babysitter, devoted sister, and often volunteers her time in her community.
Over the last several years Annika has been faced with some extremely difficult challenges.
The first of a series of cumulative traumatic episodes occurred in 2014 when Annika witnessed an accident whereby her mother (carrying her young cousin) fell and severely broke a leg. This incident resulted in an extensive recovery process involving months of rehabilitation that, despite the tremendous support of friends, turned the family’s life upside-down.
Following this ordeal, the family moved from Powell River to Duncan BC. This move was another challenge for Annika who had to leave behind her friends, community, and life as she knew it.
In 2015, Annika witnessed her father lose consciousness and fall down a flight of stairs, sustaining a severe brain injury. Annika was the only other family member in the house and played an instrumental role in administering first aid, calling 911, and assisting the ambulance attendants. In this fall, her father suffered a major concussion that would keep him off work for almost seven months.
Although she responded commendably at the time of her father’s accident, this final incident affected Annika significantly. Over the next few weeks her family noticed significant behavioural changes, and began to realize the extent of the harm caused by these successive traumatic episodes.
Annika became plagued by nightmares of the accident and lost her ability to sleep. She was always on edge and loud noises (and other such triggers) often brought her to tears. Because of what she had witnessed, Annika was deeply, uncontrollably, and constantly afraid that something bad would happen to her loved ones.
After several weeks of tumult, the family began to explore options to help Annika deal with her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) diagnosis. The Christensen family visited the Cowichan Therapeutic Riding Association (CTRA) on Providence Farm and discussed therapeutic riding with their family doctor who agreed to recommend Annika to the program.
Since joining the program, Annika’s family says they “haven’t looked back.” The Christensen’s credit Annika’s positive interactions with CTRA horses, staff, and volunteers as critical to helping Annika to develop the coping skills necessary to deal with what she had experienced.
After some time with the program, Annika is frequently sleeping through the night and is experiencing far fewer nightmares. Her family says that “the program has been instrumental in her recovery and long term well-being.” Annika’s doctor also credits much of her recovery to therapeutic riding and time spent at CTRA.
Always strongly connected, the Christensen’s credit the challenges of this difficult time with bringing them even closer together. The family looks forward to the future of Annika’s involvement with CTRA, and are playing an important role in helping to raise awareness about the benefits of therapeutic riding and equine-based therapeutic services for persons (particularly teenagers) living with PTSD.