Sundance Growth and Learning Stable was born from prayer that took Megan Sundeen to her knees.

Sundance Growth and Learning Stable was born from prayer that took Megan Sundeen to her knees.

Her original horse therapy program led to the birth of a second program, Sundance for Our Soldiers, which offers free help for suffering soldiers.

Sundeen and staff will present a free public demonstration from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, July 30, at Black Hawk College – East Campus Indoor Horse Arena in Galva.

The event is sponsored by a grant from Kewanee United Way. 

Sundeen, owner of Sundance Growth and Learning Stable, located in rural Cambridge, also is a teacher and equine specialist, and she co-facilitates the therapy with a mental health professional and horses.

Sundance for Our Soldiers (SOS) is a not-for-profit organization that uses horses to help soldiers with their mental health needs treating combat stress, PTSD and other personal challenges. The program serves Henry County and surrounding counties.

“No horseback riding is involved and no horse experience is needed,” Sundeen said. “Our mission is to provide free equine-assisted mental health services for all active military, reserves, veterans and their dependents.

“The Henry County VA Commission has statistics that state Henry County alone has 4,000 veterans with almost 600 of them disabled,” she said. “SOS sees the need to help and wants soldiers to have an opportunity that is unique to each individual tailored to their needs from the horse’s eyes.”

She said the focus is on mental health therapy that takes place entirely on the ground for soldiers and their families.

“People may ask, ‘why use horses?’ and she said, “A horse is a prey animal that ahs survived millions of years. It was not bonding that kept them alive for millions of years. Horses are naturally attuned animals that mirror and give feedback for fears and anxieties military clients may be facing. The horse becomes a catalyst between the counselor and soldier helping them discover what areas on which to focus first. The horse makes it all about the soldier’s perception that creates self-discovery.”

Sundeen herself discovered first-hand the power of horse therapy.

She described her childhood as “challenging in a male dominate, controlling, alcoholic home.”

“My father was silently suffering from signs of PTSD along with other issues. His assignment in the Korean War was to drive a water truck to the front lines of battle.

“He also was a means of transportation back to base for his fellow soldiers who had been wounded or killed ... who wouldn’t be traumatized with that experience?”

It took years for her to understand her father’s stress.

“I witnessed my father trying to talk to a psychiatrist, but my father said, ‘(The psychiatrist) doesn’t seem interested in hearing it,’ and he wasn’t and my father was given a prescription for depression and anxiety.”

After living in a home filled with combat stress and PTSD, Sundeen said she realized it is not only the solder who suffers, but the entire family.

Her father, Charles “Sundance” Sundeen, began training racehorses after returning from Korea and his daughter saw how he became drawn to the horses.

“I became my father’s caregiver when his Parkinson’s disease progressed and after he died in 2010 our family dynamics shifted and became an ugly scene,” she said. “It was as if none of our family knew how to communicate and function around each other without my father’s control and dominance.”

Months later she was on her knees praying, asking God to help her find a way to forgive her father for all the hurt and pain she believed he caused in her life.

“I sat up, opened my eyes and there it was as if I could touch it, a vision God intended for me,” she said. “From that moment the Sundance Growth and Learning Stable was born, and soon after she realized how horses could help hurting soldiers.

“Our soldiers need help, 20 a day are committing suicide and many are unemployed and several are homeless.”

The stable has changed her life and Sundeen said she hopes to “pay it forward with our soldiers and their dependents.”

Sundance for Our Soldiers is funded entirely by donations, and anyone interested in helping can send contributions to Megan Sundeen, 411 Green St., Kewanee, Ill., 61443.

“We also need licensed part-time counselors for nights and/or weekends and we are willing to work with agencies and private practice counselors,” she said.

Visit www.gofundme.com to find more information on Sundance for Our Soldiers.

The Sundance Stable is not limited to mental health therapy, but also offers private sessions, groups, clinics, retreats, life coaching, camps and grief support.

For more information, contact Sundeen at 945-7257 or visit www.sundanceforoursoldiers.org.