Being a boarder at the United States Air Force Academy, I received this message from our barn management:
We have some horses, that for various reasons, are not able to be used in the Rental Dude String here at the Equestrian Center.
We would like to first see if any of our boarders might be interested in these horses, or have friend(s) who may be interested.
Please reach out to Kristen Wright, Merri Bowden, myself for more information.
We’d like to find a happy landing place for these horses as soon as possible.
My heart stopped! If you have ever been to the equestrian center, it is one of the few rental places where one can rent a horse, without a guide or experience, and enjoy the magical environment the Air Force Academy has to offer.
These horses are bombproof, patient, and have carried many first time riders to a love and care for horses and nature that would have not existed before.
They have carried tiny kiddos for their first ride ever, grandma who had forgotten her passion for horses after life got in the way, and yes, soldiers to peace and tranquility.
These horses walk the trails in heat, rain, snow, from 9 am-16:00 pm almost every day except for Mondays on their day off, but even then they are often used for therapeutic sessions and small group work to allow our warriors and families to reconnect and cope.
These horses never complain and carry their load safely across those mountains, passed bears and mountain lions, and never once blink when a rider does not know what to do. They are very special horses!
It has always been an exemplary place to go. The horses are happy because they get to be horses after 4 pm. They get to leave and play in the mountains and fields. Only to come back fro breakfast and yet another workday.
When I read the message, I had to think of our retirees- our horses that gave it their all and are now too old or too weak to carry their workload. I often go hiking between the ‘wild horses’ when they are out in thousands of acres to play- it is the most majestic feeling in the world to see them in their natural habitat, loving life, a well-deserved break. Was the plan to sort out the old and weak? I was shocked and tears of disappointment and anger rolled down my face. I had to do something! But what can one person achieve when leaders decide…? I could at least voice my thoughts and opinion. So I sent a message back:
“I am very saddened to read this and seriously concerned.
Thank you for any information you can provide.”
The answer was brief:
“I’m very sorry for your concern. We just have a few horses that can’t handle the work of the dude string or are not needed on the cadet teams anymore. Please let me know what specifically you are concerned about and we can try and address.”
“Thank you for listening.
I have been working with wounded warriors and their families for quite some time now. We have used the herd to do our therapeutic support for them, and even the horses who cannot be ridden help a lot with relationship building and recovery from various challenges for our families. Some of our warriors truly tune in and connect with the beat and old horses- developing metaphors and relations to their own experiences and lives.
Not only do the horses all support our program, I feel we owe them a good home and have the responsibility after using them in a very demanding program that is making money, to allow them to retire and live out their lives in a safe place. I am certain folks using this amazing service would greatly agree that these horses have earned it.
As you know, research is on the way to show the effects of horse interaction on PTSD, depression, autism, etc. They are a very powerful resource especially for military families who have to handle so much.
I find it unfair to 'remove them' after they cannot be ridden anymore. Not only do they still have value; we also owe it to them to take care of them.
USAFA has always been one of the outstanding programs showing good horse management and allowing for fair treatment.
I am certain there would be an outcry if they are just used and then removed and 'kicked out' after their service.
I am presenting the program we have going in multiple countries like Germany, Japan, Thailand, and many folks are highly impressed with our results, but in particular learning from how our horses are kept and respected. I certainly hope that does not change and become one of these businesses that use animals as a tool rather than valuable living creatures with rights.
The military has a close history with their horses- they have always treated them with respect and as partners. I hope we can keep this valuable image alive!
Thank you for listening to my concerns. I am more than happy to meet and discuss this further. I myself am involved in planning for more research in collaboration with the German Army and the University of Munich. Let me know what I can do to support our horses and therefore our families.”
Since then I have not heard back from them. I cannot even imagine what the answer might be if at all. It seems the decision is made- probably by folks who have not met all the beautiful horses...I am praying to all God’s and spirits combined that people will voice their thoughts and support our horses who cannot fend for themselves and discuss this matter. We owe them!