Helping to heal veterans by partnering with horses is emotional for me and, quite frankly, I’m not sure why.
I first became aware of the opportunity through an article in a 2014 issue of Western Horseman magazine. Ranches “out west” are opening up their places to veterans for horse and nature experiences that are delivering unparalleled impact on all involved.
This discovery, paired with incredibly visceral responses from seeing the movie American Sniper and reading the book, have given me clarity about what giving back truly means.
In June, just months after my American Sniper movie and book endeavors, I was fortunate enough to help conduct a workshop for veterans at Wildwood Hills Ranch in St. Charles, Iowa, led by Lynn Winkleman – the ranch’s director of equine activities and inspiring horseman.
The veterans were from the VA domiciliary in Des Moines and accompanied by their recreational therapist. They spent the day engaged in various individual and group activities with the horses that taught trust, relationship dynamics and the impact of verbal and non-verbal communication, among other things. A noon-time meal cooked in cast iron pots over an open flame and served from an authentic chuck wagon was one of the highlights. Mother Nature blessed us with a beautiful blue sky, slight breeze and little humidity. It’s a day that will be engraved in my mind forever.
Simply stated, it was one of the most humbling experiences I’ve ever encountered. It’s best captured by me sharing this: I cried the entire drive from St. Charles home to West Des Moines – 25 miles.
If your curiosity is peaked, check out this brief video on the healing power of horses. Some of the video’s footage was taken on the memorable June day.