BraveHearts, the largest therapeutic horsemanship program in the country, has been helping veterans understand the “healing power of the horse” for more than a decade.
The Illinois-based nonprofit was founded in 2002 to help children with various diagnoses. By 2007, it started a program specifically geared toward helping veterans.
It is a mission that BraveHearts — which has two year-round accredited farms, 50 horses and hundreds of volunteers — has been focused on ever since.
Through the program, instructors help veterans and their families find healing through equine services and it is all free of charge. Veterans from all walks of life are able to experience the physical, cognitive, emotional and spiritual benefits of horses through private and group lessons, trail rides and horse shows. Ground activities include working in a round pen with mustangs, BraveHearts President Meggan Hill-McQueeney told Fox News Digital.
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Part of the instructors’ job is to help veterans understand how to mindfully handle horses in order to build their trust.
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“When we can emote with that feeling of being peaceful within ourselves, it helps the horses be comfortable,” Hill-McQueeney said.
More importantly though, the farm “gets veterans out of their homes” and gives them a purpose.
“Many veterans are looking for that positive, safe and welcoming place to feel that brotherhood again — and BraveHearts becomes that for them,” she said. “Being able to surround themselves with other veterans who may have come from similar backgrounds, served in the same branch or similarly working through healthy ways to combat their traumas.”
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Hill-McQueeney knows all too well the powerful impacts of working with horses. Hill-McQueeney, who was born without her left arm, has been riding her entire life and got involved with therapeutic riding for children about 25 years ago.
“[I] had seen the amazing benefits of how horses can help children gain their first milestones from walking to talking,” she said.
When she started teaching veterans about horses and how to ride, she started to realize that “healing from horses can come on a whole other level.”
BraveHearts runs dozens of lessons and activities six days a week with roughly 400 volunteers between its locations in Harvard and Poplar Grove.
However, that is not the only work the group is doing to help veterans.
In 2017, it created the Trail to Zero program to raise awareness for veteran suicide and to “get the number of suicides down to zero,” Hill-McQueeney said.
Each year, the nonprofit rides 20 miles in different parts of the nation to represent the number of veterans who die each day by suicide.
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“BraveHearts’ rides bring the overwhelming statistic of 20 veterans committing suicide per day to the forefront of Americans’ minds, while also educating the public about equine-assisted services and the benefits they can provide as an alternative approach to healing,” its website reads.
Overall, BraveHearts’ goal is to try and touch as many veterans as it can and to remind them “not to give up hope” if other therapies haven’t worked in the past.