There’s a program called Heroes and Horses that is focused on helping combat veterans to heal. 20% of veterans with PTSD become addicted to drugs. This program helps them to find purpose and meaning for their lives again.
Sixteen mustangs are carefully chosen to participate in a process that will transform their lives and the lives of the veterans they will be working with. The organizers search for specific qualities in each horse that will make sure it is able to accomplish what the program sets out to do.
The first phase of the program is inoculation. Here is when experienced horsemen and trainers help the mustangs to go from being completely wild beings to understanding that humans aren’t there to hurt them, but to befriend them. Once the trainers gain the animals’ trust, they are able to connect with them on a deeper level and prepare them for the second phase.
The old philosophy of force-fear-intimidation-repetition wasn’t very effective because the horses hated being forced to perform against their will. It’s not hard to see the difference between horses that are simply slaves to humans versus horses that actually have a relationship with humans.
The second phase is application. In this phase everybody works together as a team or a community to take the mustangs on a 500-mile journey as part of their training. All that time in the saddle riding through nature makes it easy to really bond.
The third phase is integration. During this time each horse is matched with a veteran.
For these feral horses, the long journey through New Mexico and Arizona was all about defining their purpose.
A lot of veterans erroneously believe that just because they served their country, life is supposed to be good to them. It takes them a while to realize that nobody owes them anything; it’s they that owe themselves a second chance. Many veterans lose their identity and unknowingly choose to define themselves by their scars. This keeps them from growing and evolving.
Each of us has our own version of that 500-mile journey. It’s those short-lived moments that force us to take an honest look at ourselves and re-evaluate the decisions we have been making. This is when we get to choose whether to continue to be run over by life or to step up and start to live.