CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Doug Hitchens is a veteran of the U.S. Army. He was deployed to Iraq in 2010 and left the service six years later.

He admits getting back into a normal routine wasn’t easy.

“Just the unforeseen challenges nobody really foresaw, mentally, physically, emotionally,” he said.

Hitchens is now part of a program for local veterans that helps them adjust to life after service by bringing them to the barn.

“Meeting new people has been more beneficial than I really thought of at the beginning,” Hitchens said. “I thought I was just going to be riding horses, but taking care of them, learning personalities…it’s exciting.”

The veterans equine therapy program is just one of many offered at the Franklin County 4-H Therapeutic Riding Center, which was started 40 years ago.

“Then it grew to now we have between 60 to 80 riders, we have five instructors, we have 25 acres, and we have this beautiful sensory trail that the riders can also go out and do trail rides,” said director Susan Rotz.

The goal is to help people ages 3 and up with mental, physical, and emotional disabilities.

“The real heroes in our program are our riders and our horses,” Rotz said. “To just see how they interact with each other just makes us feel like we’re doing the right thing…a good job.”

Rotz says seeing the students become more confident in the saddle, the barn, and in life is the greatest reward.

“They leave skipping out the door,” she said.

Hitchens admits it’s helped him.

“I never thought I’d be around horses, of course, but it’s been fun and beneficial just trying something new and being a part of something,” he said.

He encourages fellow veterans to find a challenging new path, even if it leads to an unfamiliar place.

“That first step really is the most important part,” he said. “Once you start it, things really do start looking up and feeling better.”

The riding center is always looking for volunteers, even if you have as little as one hour a week to give. You can connect with them here.

They say there is a waiting list for students, but they encourage anyone who is interested, especially veterans, to reach out.