Several organizations across the country are helping veterans rebuild their lives through equine therapy, but the Texas-based Mustang Heritage Foundation offers a unique twist: the horses it uses are wild.
The therapy involves veterans training a mustang that was previously living on land owned by the Bureau of Land Management and that has never had contact with humans. Over the course of the 12-week-long program, the veterans train the horse so it can then be adopted.
Program Director Byron Hogan tells the Austin American Statesman, “We started seeing this transformation not only of horses but of trainers. Time and time again we’d hear, ‘This horse changed my life.'”
Program participant and Army veteran Christina Avery says, “Honestly it was my last-ditch effort to find something that was going to work. I’ve been through a lot of counseling, I’ve been through a lot of treatments, I’ve been on a lot of pills. Nothing has compared to this…This has brought me to where I should be.”
KEYE-TV interviewed some participants from the most recent group of veteran tamers. One participant, Laura Parunak, flew Apache helicopters during two tours of Iraq. She found the training experience challenging, but rewarding. “I knew it was going to be hard, and I knew there were going to be days like this.” And yet, she says, “I don’t know that I could ever continue my life without some exposure to horses.”
Larry Howell, who was wounded during his second tour in Iraq, tells KEYE-TV that working with mustangs “teaches you patience.”
Both Howell and Parunak worked with their mustangs all summer to ready them for a September livestock auction. Parunak tried to buy her horse, but was outbid. A generous donor, however, had a surprise in store for the veterans, buying their horses for each of them, leaving Parunak with a big grin — and a new pet.
MORE: How Competing in A Horse Show Gives Disabled Veterans A Sense of Camaraderie