Advancing National Service

How Competing in a Horse Show Gives Disabled Veterans a Sense of Belonging

September 1, 2014
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How Competing in a Horse Show Gives Disabled Veterans a Sense of Belonging
Disabled veterans in Oklahoma ride horses for therapy. Screengrab via KOTV
As one vet puts it, "It's kind of like a reunion."

When serving their country, members of the armed services display their expertise on the battlefield. Back at home here in the U.S., some veterans are putting their skills on display in a different type of theater: the equestrian show ring.

Recently, a group of more than 20 veterans gathered at the Tulsa, Okla. fairgrounds to show off everything they know about horsemanship for a panel of judges at the National Snaffle Bit Association’s World Championship. All are participants in Heroes on Horses, a nonprofit providing equine therapy to disabled veterans. Some, like Army veteran Matthew Evans, are lifelong riders, while others had never been on a horse before they became involved with the program.

“It’s kind of like a milestone, you know?” Evans tells Tony Russell of News On 6. “Some of these people have never seen a horse before and they step up to a horse for the first time, and now here they are competing in a world show, you know? That just goes to show how far they’ve come and how great they are.”

While horse riding is meant to be therapeutic, there’s something about the thrill of competition that gives the disabled vets an extra boost. The judges evaluated them according to the stringent standards they use to measure other riders before announcing the winners. Still, Evans tells Russell, “Being able to compete with other veterans again isn’t so much a competition, it’s more of a camaraderie and a brotherhood. It’s kind of like a reunion.”

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As for the value of equine therapy, Marine veteran James Mincey says, “They always say that the best thing for the inside of a man is the outside of a horse, so there’s a lot to that.”

MORE: This Injured Veteran Healed Himself. Now He’s Bringing His Secret to Others

 

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