This is my story. It is raw and unfiltered. I don't often voice my struggles so this is hard for me. It's long and deep even for me.
Like so many veterans, I suffer from PTSD and chronic depression. It is a daily battle that always seems to leave me tired, broken and frustrated. I also have the privilege of being the cliché veteran who lost his family to divorce after the second deployment to Iraq. I was eventually remarried but the struggle of battles past tends to leave their mark. My wife Kristin and I have battled constantly to try and get ahead of this thing but PTSD is an unrelenting foe.
Eventually, we were searching for that one thing we could do together to bridge the gap between life and leisure. We made the decision to buy horses since we both had experience with them, even though things like finances, land and time outside of work weren’t ideal. She went out and, by the unknown grace of God, found a mustang mare named Nevada who was about 15 years old. I discovered a standardbred gelding we named Cisco because “Dances With Wolves” was one my favorite movies growing up. You just don’t forget a horse like that one, and our new boy Cisco has been no exception. As the days went by it became obvious Nevada and I were drawn to each other more and more. For some reason, we had an unwritten communication that was just part of who we are. The more we bonded I began to search for answers on our relationship and why it seemed to be so strong. What in the world could a seemingly temperamental mustang mare and an often frustrated, anxious and bitter Army veteran have in common? Why did we seem to perfectly understand each other, and what was it about spending more time together that was having a greater effect on me than any counselor ever did?
The answers I needed so desperately almost didn’t happen. I was nearly killed in a car wreck on the way home from work last fall. It was Sunday, October 8th, 2017. The trauma doctors felt the only thing that saved me was my body armor. You see, I was a police officer and even though my commute home took at least an hour I was always stubborn about removing my body armor until I was safely at home. The investigating officer said he was positive he was walking up on a fatality. Having a little different perspective, I knew immediately it was God, and he had a specific purpose for me I had yet to fulfill.
As I was laying in the hospital the answer hit me like a ton of bricks…. it’s the horses. I’d heard people talk about equine therapy. I’d read books on horse training and behavior. My first experience with the idea came in the way of a book written by Monty Roberts called, “The Man Who Listens to Horses”. People said things about him being a real, live horse whisperer. They said he learned to listen to horses, he understood them and communicated with them. Roberts “gentled” horses instead of “breaking” them. He knew violence wasn’t the answer….communication and compassion were. He had experienced violence, and trauma, both physical and emotional growing up. He knew there was a better way, and so do I.
Our veterans deserve a better way too. Group therapy and medication has its place but is failing at an epic rate of proportions by 22 veterans per day committing suicide. Our veterans’ spirits are “broken”, perhaps there is a way to “gentle” them instead. Break the bondage of anger and distrust.
My body has healed a significant amount. Over the past 10 months, I've scratched and clawed and fought to recover physically. Mentally, I had begun the healing process and found a real healing presence with Nevada (our mustang). With her, I felt like I was reading the last few pages of a great book. The answers to all the twists and turns were there, but by skipping to the end I was missing all the details. The how, and the why, of it all. We connected on a level that is hard to explain. She expected me to be my best and could always tell if I wasn’t present in the moment or giving my all. She could read me, like a book, and would patiently wait until I relaxed my body and my mind in the way only a mustang mare can. You know exactly what I'm talking about, we refer to it as the "mare stare". Hers is one on steroids. I guess the human equivalent would be things like the "mom stare", or the "teacher stare", or to be brutally honest when people give you the WTF look because whatever you are doing is particularly nonsensical.
Fast forward a bit, I was attending a BLM mustang adoption event a few weeks ago in Waynesville, NC and I heard a couple of the employees talking about veteran programs. Naturally, my ears perked up and I wandered closer to catch a listen. We ended up talking for a good 2-3 hours and I found out about the Mustang Heritage Foundation’s veteran program. I heard all about working with the horses and the journey from wild to mild. Gentling a wild, untamed spirit, and teaching them how to trust. To have a rock-solid relationship built from the ground up. There it was… the beginning of the book I’d already read the ending to!! I knew immediately with every fiber of my being this was what I've been called to do. Finish my story, complete my own journey to healing, and then when the time is right to lead others to the answer that was so painfully long in coming for me. Harness the power of the American Mustang for healing. My heart is literally overcome with joy that the answer for me and so many other soldiers can be on the back of a mustang as they once again prove to us what a powerful and majestic creature they truly are, not just physically but emotionally and spiritually as well.
I began pouring over every bit of information I could find on the veteran program and even called the very next day to confirm with my own ears such a vital program actually existed. I nearly fell out of my chair when Gayle, the program director, told me the fall program will start on October 8th, 2018 exactly one year to the day from the accident that should have claimed my life! Things like this don’t happen by accident. I am convinced God wasn’t finished with me. He just needed to get my attention in a big way. You see, I’ve worked in military ministry for several years and although I’ve been doing God’s work it always felt like a square peg in a round hole to me. That is, until I discovered two of the things I hold most dear can be combined into one epic calling….helping veterans and helping mustangs.
My heart was soaring after that conversation and my mind is at peace knowing how unbelievably perfect God’s timing is. I am truly humbled by God’s mercy and grace. It is crystal clear to me my life’s mission is now focused on what I can do for the Mustangs, for the veterans, and for the community as a whole. It is my prayer if I can just help one mustang and one veteran all the suffering my family and I have been through will be worth it. God bless you all and thank you so much for considering assisting me, America's Mustangs and the other disabled veterans who were selected for this program. It is both an honor and a privilege to be part of such a worthy cause.
Thankful and Blessed,
“Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.” – John Wayne
- Mary Ann Rogers
- Deborah Finney
- Susan Grose
- Lynn Cribb
- Kimberly Chappell
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