I saw a man about a horse and it changed how I feel about myself.
A while ago, I ran across the website for a program called Saratoga WarHorse. I reached out to Bob Nevins, Director of Veteran Program and Founder. Bob is a Vietnam vet and retired from a 24 year career as an airline pilot to start this program. Bob called me and we spoke on the phone about the program and then selected my date to attend the program and it was one of the best choices I’ve made in a long time. Saratoga WarHorse is an unbelievable program that works on a simple level. It is just you and the horse. This program is one of those things that I can tell you about, but it’s hard to actually explain and express how it feels. Bob has created a program that works and has had over 300 graduates with no failures. It is not that the program is pass or fail, because it is what you make of your experience that matter, but the program’s success rate is just that good.
It is a three day program that teaches you a lot and gives you an experience. One fantastic aspect of what Saratoga WarHorse offers is that the program is free to the Veteran. Through donations, the program is able to pay for travel to Saratoga, a 2 night hotel stay in a beautiful hotel and the meals while you’re there. The other fantastic aspect to the program is the retired horses. They are what makes the program work and they are in the program to graduate as well.
My horse, Volente, was a retired race horse. All of the horses in the program are retired race horses. They enter the program themselves to learn how to be something besides a racehorse. The program is as much to retrain the horse for its second life as it is for the veteran. The program is a new beginning for all involved. The veteran and the horse. Volente, and I’m directly quoting The Saratoga WarHorse website here, comes to SWH from Akindale Thoroughbred Rescue after an unsuccessful racing career. He has a kind and gentle personality and has been adopted out to several homes over the years, which due to circumstances out of his control, have ended up with his return to Akindale.
They are not joking either. Volente is my favorite horse and once our experience was through, Volente was a very loving horse, and even returned my hug. So, I’ve talked about the experience and I haven’t told you what it is yet. The day we go to the facility that houses the horses is the day everything happens. Melody, our wonderful and super talented guide through the whole process, started the morning by bringing in all sorts of home cooked food. You might actually gain a few pounds, the food is good and plentiful for both lunch and dinner. I’m not going to detail every aspect of this experience because it is not necessary to tell you them all. I’ll tell you the highlights and the things I can actually explain into words.
Throughout the morning we learned about the horses, communicating and working with them and about the program itself. It’s very personal, very well done and very interesting. Our afternoon started the work, there are some physical aspects to this, but nothing above what each individual can handle. We assembled the round pen, the area in which we will work with the horses (we disassembled it as well) and working as a team, we actually did it quite quickly. Inside this pen we were visually schooled my Melody and Bob before practicing our routine with Melody pretending to be the horse. That poor women ran and ran and ran all afternoon making sure we had everything down.
The moment that makes the visit is working with the actual horses. I cannot explain how I feel. I’m sharing the video of my experience below, you can see for yourself what we do. Immediately, I felt good. I enjoyed my experience, I enjoyed bonding with the horse. I did feel good and extremely glad I participated. It’s now though, several weeks later that I’m realizing the real effects of the experience. I find myself thinking about my time with Volente instead of the memories I used to refer back to. The horrible memories nobody wants to think about. It’s much more pleasant to think about hugging my horse and I do it and think about it naturally. I’m not going to say that I’m fixed and that every issue I have was cured by my time with Volente, but it sure helped me.
Bob talks about resetting a circuit breaker and I find it is an excellent analogy. I learned things about myself and I opened myself up. I gained a lot of traction in my personal battles and this experience jump started my recovery. I am forever grateful for my time with Saratoga WarHorse. I can’t thank Bob, Janelle, Melody, Brian, Troy, Volente, their many donors and all of the other volunteers who showed up to help enough. What they do is a fantastic service to the veteran community.
From the bottom of my heart, I can’t thank you enough.
If anyone thinks this program might help them, please reach out to Bob or Jennel, all it takes is a phone call. I can consider these folks family for what they do to help. Bob is a veteran himself and words aren’t needed. After 300+ veterans, he just seems to know.
I also cross posted this on The Warrior’s Pointe. It is a blog hosted by Warrior Pointe, Inc and is written by Veterans for Veterans.