Veterans R and R
Illinois-based program unites wild horses and veterans
In the serene countryside of northern Illinois, not even 1.5 hours from Chicago, sits an equestrian center with an important mission – one that is curating the healing of veterans through close-knit bonds made with Mustangs.
Operation Wild Horse (OWH) is a program of Veterans R&R, providing “a safe community where veterans, active-duty military, and families can build a significant Mustang/human bond that allows barriers to fall, communication to enhance, and trust to form.” Consisting of a three-person team – the experienced Mustang trainer, veteran coordinator, and the Mustangs themselves – the Operation Wild Horse curriculum assists with Military service-related challenges including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury, hyper-vigilance, transition and reintegration issues, deployment, depression, anxiety and much more.
Wild horses of every color were nestled behind stalls with fans, content with their hay and awaiting lessons with their veteran. The American flag, POW-MIA and others representing our US. Armed Forces were hanging proudly in the indoor arena. Veterans and their family members visited out front, surrounding a picnic table.
“When I started this program and came up with the idea, it was really to give back and to share my love of Mustangs with other people. And truly for me, I would never have been able to go on the journey that I've been on with Mustangs if it weren't for the men and women of our military – the sacrifices that they make and that they're willing to make every day for us to live in the greatest country in the world. It is really my driving force in giving back,” said dressage rider/trainer and program director for Operation Wild Horse, Patti Gruber, in an interview with Valley Vet Supply.
“All of our horses are BLM Mustangs, and we have two BLM burros. We use the principles of dressage and Western dressage in teaching all of our veterans how to ride. Dressage is actually the oldest form of military riding, so it fits in very well. We have a partnership with the Western Dressage Association of America, which we're very proud of, and we teach mainly under those principles.”