THREE BRIDGES, N.J. — Several dozen veterans, volunteers, dignitaries and other supporters gathered on a very chilly March 20 to honor a special horse.

Spring Thaw, the lead therapy horse at Spring Reins of Life (SRoL)., was honored by the Veteran’s Administration with the Planetree Therapy Animal Medal of Honor. It would have been the Appaloosa's 31st birthday. Spring was laid to rest on Jan. 20, his old body no longer able to withstand tough winters.

Just days after his death, the veterans who had nominated Spring for the award, came to share the news with SRoL co-founder Christianna Capra, that he had won the honor.

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At the ceremony, Capra recounted Spring's story: She was living in New York City and met the horse at Claremount Riding Academy. The temperamental gelding had a penchant "for going AWOL," Capra said. He developed a fool proof technique for dumping his rider. He would then go touring Central Park and other aprts of New York City on his own until he decided to return to his stall. Capra, who was helping out as a groom, purchased the trouble maker.

For several years Spring competed in three-day eventing, but only on his own terms, Capra said. Then he contracted Lyme disease. Capra took him to Dr. Judith Shoemaker. Dr. Shoemaker said Spring was a very ill horse, with an attitude, when she started treating him. The veterinarian noticed the horse was very communicative and suggested he would be good as a equine assisted psychotherapy horse under the Equine-Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) model. 

Thus, Spring became the founding member of the SRoL therapy herd. In the nine years since then, Spring has helped more than 700 veterans from the N.J. VA Healthcare System as well as local combat veterans in New Jersey cope with PTSD. Many of whom referred to him as ‘The General or Grandpa. Spring also work with troubled youth, one of whom asked if the horse had Jedi powers, thus earning him another nickname, "JediHorse."

The horse seemed to have a sixth sense when around people. He always wanted to get right down to business, even if it made the people uncomfortable, Capra said. While interacting with the clients, Spring helped them see inside themselves so they could heal.

Congressman Leonard Lance could not be in attendance as he is in Washington, D.C. but he arranged to have a flag flown at the Capitol in honor of Spring Thaw. That flag was then presented to Capra by Evan Wadle in the Congressman's absence.

Only 15 service animals in the country are being awarded the Medal of Honor. A national ceremony will be held in October in Maryland. 

“Spring's life left a life marker on countless clients in the nine years he spent working his JediHorse magic in our EAP arena. We are so blessed to have had his guidance and wisdom shared so freely,” Capra said.