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Veterans on the Trail

We love to highlight our brave men and women in the military who also love the trails. I don’t think we highlight these folks enough in our world. For many of them, their lives radically changed the day they signed up to serve. Most, even if it didn’t happen, were willing to sacrifice their own lives for our freedoms.

Veterans are near and dear to my heart (my husband was a Marine reservist) and I can only imagine what many of them struggle with on a daily basis. The sacrifice they made for you and me and this nation has taken a heavy toll on many of them. Not only is it hard for many of them to adjust back to civilian life, but many of them struggle with mental battles long after the battles are over. Many struggle with physical battles long after they come home. Because of this many have chosen suicide over the torture they faced here at home.

Statistics show that there are 21 to 22 Veterans that commit suicide per day – more stats are leaning to 22 deaths and that may be on the rise, which wouldn’t be a surprise since suicides have spiked all over the world in 2020. 40% of regular folks say they are struggling with mental illness – imagine those in the military who already have had these pressures, and then the pandemic and politics hit without warning, leaving many isolated and alone. But for those of us who have horses, we’ve had an outlet that has helped many of us get through this trying year. Our horses draw us out of our homes, and if we’re blessed enough, they draw us out on the trail. Our horses have an innate ability to draw us out of ourselves. We’re blessed to own horses. The connection between a horse and the owner is something that non-horse people can’t understand. And the connection between a horse and a Veteran is something even greater than what many of us horse folks experience. Let me share a few testimonies below from some of our HTA Members, who are also Veterans, of how horses have impacted their lives…

“Hi! I had horses as a kid but got away from them in high school and college. Then I joined the Army after college [and was] the only kid that had ever left the state in my whole family. I was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas – [it was] absolutely miserable... until I found a riding stable and a sweet old cowboy that just found out he was a diabetic. We struck a deal that I would stop by twice a day to check his sugar and give him his shot - my reward was any horse, anytime... and the bug struck me again!! That was 35 years ago, and I haven’t been without horses since! I’m now into mules as well!! This is me and Newt at 7 Springs in Alabama. I stayed in the Army for 4 years and then went into the Air Force for 5 more - came out as a Captain… with 4 horses!!”

-Kit Ivy Chestnut (Photo by friend Tina Russell)

“My horses are my saviors!! Lady Army Vet”

-Michele Hart (Photo) “They gave me my life back.”

-Veronica Castro Kohler “[Horses helped me with] Depression 20 years ago.”

- Wendy Stetson

“My husband, Air Force retired in 2001, and his beautiful Paso Fino "Capiro de la Luna" horses have helped him keep as active as his heart will allow!”

- Kim Shepard Tilley (Photo)

“I agree my horse helps with depression and anxiety, keeping me agile and nimble and just putting a smile on my face.”

- Crystal A. Cogley-Emens

“Navy Vet 20 years, my horses are my identity.”

- James Brown

“I have been around horses my entire life, once I retired they really came to the forefront of my life and helped me to find my new purpose. So much so that I created a Facebook group called “Operation Tacked Up” just for military members and their families that ride.”

- Marc Hudson

“Freedom, fresh air, responsible for something that truly likes and needs you, a friend that is always happy to see you, well unless they see a halter or the truck/trailer… haha.”

-Callie Leazer

“Been in 19 years now, deployed 48 months to Iraq/Afghan... my horses hear me without me having to say a word.”

- Candice Caudill (Photo)

“I suffered from childhood trauma, PTSD. Joining the USCG saved my life, it was the first time in my life where no one was allowed to touch or hurt me. After I got out of the service and our kids were getting ready to graduate, I got my first horse. Up until then, I worked for lessons. My first gelding JR taught me balance and confidence. My current horse Grace has taught me how to heal the hurt and damage I have carried all of my life. As much as I gained from the service, more damage and pain was inflicted. My healing/recovery journey has been made possible because of the work with our horses... Last year Grace and I completed the Michigan Trail Riders Association “Shore to Shore” ride, and this year we completed the virtual ride. This journey is amazing!!!” - Laura Daly-Barrett (Photo)

“Staff Sgt, USMC, 1970-1978. With my partner Shadow, a Tennessee Walking Horse. As a Vietnam vet, I do suffer from PTSD but not when he is with me.”

-David Krewson (Photo)

“My horse keeps me sane in a world gone crazy.”

- Priscilla Rhodebeck

“Keeps me too broke to be a druggie! LOL!”

-Jackie Coble LeBlanc

“Scotch and Andy (both therapy horses), and I volunteered when I was stationed at Scott AFB from 2009 to 2012. We volunteered over 1000 hours! Loved every second of it. I can tell you many other stories of success with autistic, trisomy 21 children – like a girl [who couldn’t walk], we had to two-person-lift to the back of Andy ended up walking to her session two years later. So much joy volunteering those few years! I did not work with the Vets. The program was mostly for children but many had parents serving in the military. Andy (the horse in the photo) was part of a program called Bridge the Divide. He enriched the lives of hundreds of children and adults with mental and physical handicaps. Volunteering with him enriched my life. It showed me how a little bit of effort and time could change the world for people. Here he is with a young lady that survived a germ cell tumor that took 80% of her sight. They were getting ready to show in a showmanship class. She did this without assistance! I cried that day because her perseverance and courage humbled me. With dreams, we can conquer the world!” -Jodi Potterton

“Riding keeps me motivated to keep moving, as mobility is life itself.”

- Buddy Lee Frye

“The back of a horse is good for the soul... Iraq 04-05 combat infantry... SFC Ret...”

-Monty Otwell (Photo by Terry McMaster)

“I would say that my horse has definitely helped with my stress and mental health. I’ve had one-off and on during my 15 years of service thus far and I can say I’m a much happier person with one in my life in some capacity, even when I was just doing lessons because I couldn’t afford one at the time.” - Erika Holt

“Two combat vets who have made cowboying our way of life. Can’t speak for both of us, but I know if it wasn’t for the horses I raised, life could have been very different and not always good...”

-Michael D Mckinley” (Photo)

“I am a proud Army veteran that found solace and mental help from being horseback.” -John Frier

“Thirty-eight cumulative years as a veteran; still serving. I got into horses much later in life. I did it the opposite of what most people did. My involvement with horses became a degree which is now a job. However, they are my go-to for solace, for friendship as weird as that sounds, and to keep me in shape and competitive. I am a grandmother of 4 at 57 years young. – JT Ritzman, Equestrian Admissions Counselor at Williams Woods University (Photo)

"...I use to have anxiety and an inability to calm down. A path through a vacation led me to horses. I learned very quickly that being anxious or amped up did not work with horses. The folks helping me ride told me if I would calm down the horse would too. I took that advice. I took a deep breath and began to relax...and so did the horse. This was an amazing experience. I decided right then I had to be a horse owner. Having a horse taught me how to take a breath and be calm. This has helped me with everyday life. If ever I feel anxious or stressed I simply spend time with my horse. I love riding my horse in the cell cars...just nature. The horse has helped me in another way that is physical. I lost vision in my left eye from an injury I sustained in the Army. I’ve had surgery and some vision has been restored but I cannot do the things I could do before losing my vision. My horse is my partner, my left eye if you will. I am able to climb hills and rack down a trail at speed without fear of my vision interfering. It is my hope the good Lord will allow me to own horses for the rest of my days as they are a true blessing." - Anonymous Seargent in the Army, served 8 years

There you have it, folks. Horses are important. Our veterans are important. One gives us the freedom to live the life we want in this great country, and the other gives us freedom in our souls to live this life to the fullest. We should never take either for granted. To our Veterans: Thank you for being you. Thank you for your willingness to serve. I value and cherish you for that. So, do many others across this great nation. Thank you for not giving up and for continuing to fight the good fight. And thank you for caring for your horses! And if you’re a veteran reading this and you don’t have a horse of your own, but you’d like to – please search in your area for equine-related organizations and ministries that use horses as their outreach, they can help. If you can’t find one in your area, please contact me. I’ll do what I can to connect with you and other willing trail riders who may have the resources and knowledge you need to get connected in the horse world.


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