Horses for Heroes

This program connects soldiers and horses in order to help begin the healing process.
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This program connects soldiers and horses in order to help begin the healing process.
photo courtesy horses and humans research/ caisson platoon

There’s nothing like time in the saddle to put a sparkle back in someone’s eyes. One non-profit is doing that and more by reaching out to active-duty military personnel, returning combat veterans, wounded warriors, and their families to give them the opportunity to ride a horse for free. Operation Free Ride (www.operationfreeride.com), an offshoot program of Horses4Heroes (www.horses4heroes.org), has one goal in mind: to connect veterans and their families with horses.

Founder Sydney Knott, 56, launched the program last year. “We are 100 percent about the whole family,” Knott says. “They need family re-connectivity.”

Here’s how it works: Any veteran or active-duty personnel can contact Operation Free Ride to find an equestrian center near them that participates in the program. Currently, there are 238 equestrian centers in 44 states that participate, plus Canada. If there is no participating center near the veteran, the folks at Operation Free Ride reach out to the American Competitive Trail Horse Association (www.actha.us) to find local horses to ride.

The group’s emphasis on family appealed to Elizabeth Shatner, founder of the All Glory Project (www.allgloryproject.com), an organization that funds Operation Free Ride and is named after a Standardbred she owns with her husband, actor William Shatner.

“Soldiers are coming back more damaged than ever, and families are busting apart because they don’t understand post traumatic stress disorder,” says Shatner, a third-generation horsewoman. “I’ve gone through some challenging times... I get the battle. I get the battle these loved ones go through. I was not treated for post-traumatic stress disorder [after a disturbing injury], so I know how it can affect a family. This is why I developed a passion and vision to do this… I also have a nephew who’s been disabled from birth, who has a seizure every day of his life, and the one thing he can do is equine therapy.”