Archive » October 11, 2012
By Pat Murphy, Contributing Writer
Even the United States Air Force knows about the mysterious healing abilities of horses. In 2009, it established the Warrior Wellness program at their Academy’s Equestrian Center near Colorado Springs, Colo. We contacted Billy Jack Barrett there, who leads the program, and when he talks it’s kind of like listening to country music.
“What we are doing with this program, pretty much started the cowboy way: We just saddled up and started riding,” he says, “When we take the returning warriors out to ride in the fields around the perimeter of the property, we call it checking fences.” Billy Jack has managed this ranch for more than 30 years and it has been said that when soldiers walk over the stone bridge onto the 950-acre ranch, it is like entering a different world.
They started the Wellness program by buying older ranch horses and expanded into some Mustangs that had been captured by the BLM and then been sent to prison. There they were partly gentled by inmates (which is another story of its own) and were purchased by the U.S. Air Force. There, further gentling and training techniques took place until the horses were suitable for the Wellness program. Now they have about 30 Quarter horses for the warriors.
Billy Jack has two employees: Robert Templin and Jeanne Springer, but the warriors do most of the feeding, watering, stall cleaning, grooming and exercising. The horses are not trained in reining or cutting because they want them to walk quietly along the mountain trails. What is really remarkable is that Billy Jack had found a way to finance this program without using taxpayers’ dollars. There is also a boarding and training stable on the property that helps to support the program. But they can always make good use of donations, as they have developed so many different ways now to help our troubled soldiers.
As the Warrior Wellness experimental program progressed, the military realized what a valuable tool they had for the physical and mental rehabilitation of their soldiers and also their families. At the hospital, the men had spent a lot of their time sitting around waiting for their medical appointments. Then the word got around about how much help the horse program was providing. One day, 4-star Gen. Gene Renart came out to experience for his self how the heavy burdens of his grueling duties could be relieved. There have also been visits from the Admiral of the Naval Academy, the Commander of West Point and a leader of the Coast Guard exploring the idea of setting up their own programs. Just last week, high officials from the Pentagon arrived to study the amazing equine phenomena.
Some pretty exciting things have happened since the Warrior Wellness program started: The Boeing Aircraft Co. donated funds so that all the staff could be trained and certified as equine assisted therapists. Then the leaders collaborated with Pikes Peak Community College to establish a farrier training program. This enabled soldiers to graduate with papers as certified farriers. A Veterinarian Technician Program is also being explored. The Academy’s Center for Character Development has joined the program and is working side by side with war heroes. Some of the warriors have had many tours of duty serving our country. They’ve seen their friends blown up, children killed, been wounded or blinded, and other endless horrors in Iraq and Afghanistan.
One of the warriors commented, “There’s something about a horse that can create a magical bond. It can lead to a dramatic breakthrough that results in healing!”