A good trekking horse is sure-footed and has a calm nature.
They can encounter all kinds of obstacles on the trail: deer, moose, coyotes, trucks, mountain bikers, weather changes, soft terrain and even lawn mowers.
Having a calm nature is particularly important when the horse is carrying a rider on a journey that is intended to be therapeutic.
âEvery horse has things that they are not comfortable with,â says Morgan Kareus, one of the founders of the Harmony Acres Equestrian Center in Fruita. âThey are like people.
The Harmony Acres Equestrian Center recently launched a program for military veterans, who are taken on trekking horses for rides as a form of therapy.
Goose, a trail horse that Harmony Acres adopted for the program, is a very good trail horse, according to Air Force veteran Calvin Cage, who rode Goose on a ride Thursday.
âGoose is a jerk, that’s what he is,â Cage said. âHe just keeps his tongue out while you ride. I really had a great time connecting with him.
JJ Fletcher, a board member for Harmony Acres, one of the main organizers of the rides, said he was moved by the issues veterans face with post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide.
According to the Center for Post-Traumatic Growth at Grand Junction Veterans Hospital, approximately 8 million adults in the United States will experience symptoms of PTSD each year.
According to the center, around 11-12% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans show symptoms of PTSD, with 12% of Desert Storm veterans and 15% of Vietnam veterans showing symptoms.
âWhat can we do to change this? Said Fletcher.
Cage said he was exhibiting symptoms of PTSD due to his time in the Air Force, including anxiety. He said his ride with Goose made his anxiety go away for a while.
He said just leaving the house can be difficult at times, including the Thursday before the hike, but once he gets on the horse it’s all gone.
âYou don’t think about anything that’s going on in your life, you just walk around looking at the scenery,â Cage said.
Cage said forming a relationship with Goose was therapeutic for him, and the ride also helped him learn to be more patient.
âIf I get anxious I can look at this place as my mental sanctuary and reduce my anxiety,â Cage said. âI found it to be great therapy. “
BUILD THE PROGRAM
Once the group had the idea, Kareus came up with a plan and they went to the Harmony Acres board with the idea (Fletcher has been on the Harmony Acres board for about four years. ).
The group was inspired by a Montana-based program called Heroes and Horses.
The program helps veterans “take a 180 turn” from everything that is going on in the world, said Fletcher.
âThere are so many people who care about them,â Kareus said. âIt’s so hard to fight this desperation, but that’s what we’re trying to do. “
The process is simple: they bring in the veterans and staff, discuss why they’re making the ride, talk to bikers about Harmony Acres, run a safety training program, put the bikers in the arena. they have never ridden before and then they go for a hike.
The walks take place on Fletcher’s property in Palisade along the cattle trails. Runners are led by a leader, with a staff member behind the group and another staff member in the middle. âWe just take them out for a nice, leisurely 2 hour ride,â Fletcher said. “It’s just really peaceful.”
There’s a stop in the middle for a photoshoot, and runners receive gift baskets from Enstrom’s Candies, Talbott Orchards, and Starbucks.
They took three veterans on the first hike. There are six total veteran rides planned for this year, Fletcher said.
Fletcher said the group also plans to take people from the community, such as business leaders and politicians, on walks as part of the program.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Now the Horses: Fletcher rides Joey, an Appaloosa (an American breed of horse with a spotted coat pattern) from Blue Mesa Riding Stables in Gunnison.
Joey is a good and gentle horse, said Fletcher.
Veterans ride track horses such as Tuff, a Haflinger (a relatively small horse breed developed in Austria and northern Italy) from Rim Rock Adventures in Fruita, and Zion, who along with Goose was adopted from the Corral. West Adventure Center in Arizona.
âYou can’t put a price on a good track horse,â said Fletcher.
The main wrestler is Joyce Kenney of Palisade. Kenney, who is 70, is joined by her horse Scooter, who is in her 30s.
âThese two look like a single entity when they’re together,â Kareus said.
The other members of the team are Josie Robinson and Alan Moore.
Kareus said they wanted veterans to feel supported in their community.
“I hope this reminds them of the strength they have,” Kareus said.
The program is funded by the VA and various donors, Fletcher said.
Kareus said that one of his missions is to help people realize the power of horses and the good they can bring.
âThey absorb stress, I think. They absorb tension and replace it with calm, âsaid Mark Gomez, a retired teacher who participated in the program.
Michael Maxsween, another Air Force veteran on Thursday’s drive, said he found climbing Tuff along the trail to be very therapeutic.
âI haven’t felt this good in a while,â said Maxsween. âI had anxiety and things like that.
âBasically, to me, it felt like you kind of let go of what society demands of us throughout the day. When you go out there is something about these horses that calms you down, âsaid Maxsween.
Harmony Acres is a place where people come to interact with animals for the purpose of healing, Kareus said.
Harmony Acres has worked in horse-assisted psychotherapy and therapeutic riding before that, Kareus said. She also wants to make Harmony Acres a place where horseback riding is more accessible to everyone.
âWhen I was a kid, horses were kind of just for the rich,â she said.
Harmony Acres is funded by the community and by grants, Kareus said. They are not trying to make money.
A number of people were instrumental in making this program possible, Fletcher said, including farriers, hay farmers and veterinarians.
The group hopes to double the number of rides offered next year, Fletcher said, but it all depends on funding.
Kareus said there are a lot of funders who want to help the program, and they will hear about a possible grant in September. Harmony Acres will hold its annual fundraiser on August 28.
Cage and Maxsween said they would recommend the program to others.