Veterans Speak

Welcome to our Veteran's Page where you can follow some as they share in their words.

Please check back periodically for additional stories, words or quotes...

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October 2015 visit - with stay at our Warrior Bunkhouse ~ Testimonial

Upon my return to the "salt mines", I pondered all the good that I gained from participating in a shortened version of the Horses For Heroes Cowboy Up! program. My main feeling upon my return home was one of being more settled, more in tune with my current reality (rather than with memories), more comfortable with myself. You gave me a great gift: that combination of perceptions which allowed me to stop my mental flailings that led only to wasted thought, frustration, and yes, sadness.

I think that we combat vets have special focus on our downrange memories because of the intensity and dynamic nature of that experience. Most of us serve in the military to not do "normal things" and combat definitely grants that wish. It might have been only one event, or an entire tour's worth, that created the combination of adrenalin and attention that causes deep imprints upon one's brain, but regardless, the resulting memories necessarily stand in stark contrast to the duller ones created by the more mundane daily activities we experience upon our return home, such as working on a computer, doing dishes, or watching TV. It is thus inevitable that the majority of us tend to focus on those more "colorful" (said with tongue-in-cheek) memories and less on the duller ones we live each day. This is not a good thing in general, because it tends to lead one to not live in the here and now, and especially so if those memories are bad, which become living in a nightmare. There's no doubt that living solely in one's head, so to speak, negatively impacts relationships and overall mental health. But what can one do to change this?

You and Rick know! Horses For Heroes Cowboy Up! offers a positive solution that allows us to create new, dynamic, and positive memories to replace those memories of combat, and in so doing, allows us to re-engage with the present, with reality. This eases feelings of frustration and/or sadness and replaces them with feelings of accomplishment and contentment (and for me, joy!). I consider your program a key enabler of healing, especially self-healing, which is a major achievement and one that is priceless, because it permits we vets to feel in control again. Such a program is not replicated through talking sessions with some mental health professional or working with a group of other vets, which often become another dull memory with no end, and it is definitely more healing to the damaged soul that that you both talk about in your definition of PTSD [Post traumatic Spiritual Dissonance]. God bless you for coming up with this methodology and especially allowing me to participate! Personally, I know that my heart and soul will ever carry scars/signs of my combat tours, but I now know that there's no need to pick at the scab any longer to feel alive. I feel less fragmented (like a Rubic's Cube that has been solved, where all the pieces fit together again) and I can recall my combat memories without the same intensity as before, because my New Mexico memories are fresh and still tangible.

Sgt. Major S.S. US Army (Ret.) 2003 -2010 Iraq - Afghanistan Veteran 

********************************************************************************** ********************************************************************************** Victor Birdseye Journal...

In between riding and ranch chores there was a lot of our normal Cowboy Philosophy and conversation. SFC Victor Birdseye did a good job recording this journey texting his friends and family and he has allowed me to import his journey here, so with my pictures and in his words, here we go! Thank you Victor. Just before we start though, I'd like to give a quick shout out of thanks to his wife Sabrina, for it takes a strong woman with an open heart to stick by a man who comes back from warzone. You have taken the time to understand and give your support during what can be a difficult transition for many. May God continue to bless you both. Both Rick and I look forward to meeting you.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011 ~ 6:11 am

"Day Two,, New Mexico, its like the landscape begs you to leave your problems, and release them to be swept into the sage and cacti, for you soul to be uplifted on the wings of hawks and carried away. In the morning before the sun rises crazy dog and fat dog meet you all smiles and wagging tails wanting a pat on the head and a good belly scratch. We know that soldiers and cowboys followed only by fishermen are famous for tall tales, but when veterans come together over horses their souls are bared and they share the horrors that haunt their sleep, and the desert swallows them up. Its now apparent why Native Americans and Christ would wander into the desert in search of guidance, a man becomes lost in the serenity and finds himself cleansed and pure on the way out. Four soldiers said the same thing yesterday, over horses so you know its true, we need to change the therapeutic environment, get out of the clinics and back to the basics of living, strip away the bullshit and quit trying to be Joneses."

2:25 pm
"Ride until lunch, progressed a long ways."

4:46 pm
"More riding, more stall mucking, I even have blisters hand got soft, like my body and mind, the amount of concentration involved with cowboy therapy sharpens the mind, physical labor hardens the body a combination of the two cleanses the spirit, causing the veteran to become a whole person. He has no time to dwell on the PTSD and the brain is doing so many things at once it is forced to rewire and the disconnects to reattach."

Thursday, October 13 at 7:08 am

"Day three, woke up tired and had to fight the "z" monster to get out of bed. Have the soreness that people pay to get at the gym, that good soul healing pain that comes from getting up early working all day and going to be early. Coffee and sunrises for breakfast, and of course crazy dog are a great way to spend the morning. Crisp and cool the drought drags on. However where there is water things grow. Cowboying and farm / ranch work are the water that grows the spirit. Bite your lip and Cowboy up, pain is temporary and pride is forever. The army tries hard and is successful at taking the knowhow out of young men and teaching them the ways of war, but those that want to set it aside and return to their roots, there's a way, in the words of a well known comedian "git r done" your family and friends need it, your life
depends on it."

8:24 am
"Out west..... long on conversation and the coffee is always on."

Friday, October 14 at 6:46 am

"Day four and I didn't do anything yesterday, well thats not true, Steve and I fed (cattle) over several hundred acres, barley from the local brewing company. We went and found bully, my first New Mexico cowboy job, Steve, Joe and I it was a beautiful ride across the desert with lots of clean air, and time for reflection and releasing all the bad crap out into the desert. Its like stepping back in time about a thousand years, stresses where different then. By the time all that was done it was dinner time, load the broken truck, and pick up feed. Now day four starts cool clear and promising, and the first thing we are going to do is pick up feed."

8:00 am
"The military in all its wisdom developed a routine for soldiers as a technique of dealing with hardship, the ranch lifestyle provides the same kind of routine that goes one step further for it makes the soldier take care of something bigger then himself, by taking care of animals that are completely reliant on him."

9:30 am
"Every issue can be solved in a pick up truck, if not there on the back of a horse just ask Rusty."

9:41 am
"This is exactly what is about, veterans helping veterans using equestrian, ranch style structure and changing the therapeutic environment."

3:33 pm
"Still day four, fed this morning and did some cowboy philosophying in a truck, then went and rode and there is nothing more therapeutic then the ahha moment on the back of a horse, when everything comes together."

4:41 pm
"Something about being on a horse in the great outdoors just opens you up. By changing the therapeutic environment we have the ability to put soldiers in an environment that they are most comfortable with. A soldier at ease within himself has the ability to comprehend just how small a speck he is in the universe. Providing him with a comfortable, structured environment that he or she is at ease with gives him the ability to release the stuff he is holding inside. Twice now I have been working in the arena and tears were streaming down my face as I get it and learn horsemanship and through the concentration required to handle the animal with just my body let go of a little more bull crap. Its similar to getting in a hot tub and letting the stress go something veterans have a hard time with. The Cowboy Up! program gives motivated and dedicated veterans the tools they need to accomplish this seemingly impossible mission."

Saturday, October 15 8:41 am

"Day five, went and saw the aspens last night beautiful gold colors in the sun set. Then went to a Santa Fe Western gallery and listened to some artists and very knowledgeable folks talk on Wyat Earp a true American Hero the aniversery of the OK corral is on the 26 of Oct. Hauled feed last night so getting up was hard, its sure not from lack of sleep. Being out doors working all day wears a body out, and this is what our veterans need a positive outlet that exhausts them."

12:33 pm
"Round up prep, puts some butterfly's in your stomach, similar to combat mission prep. You know the men to your left and right are going to rely on your actions and know how. Your calmness and presence of mind will effect the whole outcome of the mission. Its a different mission with a different outcome, with its own dangers and pitfalls, with its own satisfaction and a peacefulness and accomplishment when the day is over. Its something veterans can wrap their mind around and leave the crap among the cacti, with a sense of purpose and accomplishment."

12:44 pm
"Round up prep, with the pre combat inspections and equipment prep invokes the same feelings a veteran experiences prepping for a combat operation. However by experiencing those feelings and then going into a non hostile environment the veteran is building tools to help him reintegrate into civilian life."

12:48 pm
"Nervous with sweaty palms, everyone has a job."

4:12 pm
"Coming off the range relaxed with a sense of accomplishment, cowboying is very similar to working in a squad everyman has a duty and position. Its these similarities that make the adjustment so versatile and simple for veterans suffering from PTSD. Once the adjustment is realized its easy to take the tools gleaned and apply them to transition."

Still Saturday the 15th, After the gather... Weighing and prep for shipping:

Sunday, October 16 at 7:56am

"Day six, early wake up, sleeping like a hot rock, every night. Loaded calves this morning to go to sale. There is so much to learn if you keep your mouth shut, some of the top cowboys and top cattlemen in the nation. Anyone interested in the ag business should come and spend a week or two. Its good for the mind and soul. I was even able to run a little this morning. Calves bawled all night and I never heard them, the only thing that would make it perfect is Sabrina Ridgeway, my beautiful wife and my flea bitten dogs."

" and the Cowboy Up! Program goes far beyond equestrian therapy, its about horsemanship and working cattle and raising grass, and carving out a living out of the desert. If Christ spent forty days in the desert, it would seem to me that this is the best possible rehabilitation for our soldiers suffering from PTSD. The program offers the opportunity for soldiers to be outside, working and putting their lives back together. Nothing like seeing the sun set and rise each day and working the hours in between, so that a body rests at night. Sleep is when the body heals."

"Its an opportunity to realign you body and soul with natural surroundings and live like The Master Architect intended, one with your surroundings."

"Spent the morning sorting calves for the sale, rode this afternoon, lazy Sunday. Animals know when your having an anxiety issue, this is a reason veterans should work with animals as much as possible. Its possible for the veteran to cue their pending anxiety off of their animal and start putting safe guards in place before it becomes a full blown issue. This gives veterans a better quality of life. After all they have done for our country, don't they deserve it?"

"TBI therapy: take control of one of your senses, for instance in the airport or grocery store I wear my ipod it helps prevent sensory overload. Finding a natural rythym for grounding, such as that provided by horses, and the continual adjustment of the body and the horse helps the brain find new paths around the injured sections of the brain. Similar to driving a manual shift car, there is so much going on the brain does not have time to zone out and return to the injured nuropaths, its forced to work at all times, creating new path ways to function along."

October 17, 2011 1:31 pm

"The time goes by so fast, fed this morning and rode in the early afternoon going out to see the river. This place welcomes veterans in so they realize there are more then just them selves suffering from issues. It also makes them aware that there are people who really care and want to see them improve."

Tuesday at 9:05am October 18, 2011

"This morning met Steves father, who lived through the dust days of the thirty's he was barefoot and just a wee boy, there is nothing better then hearing the stories of an old man to humble you and make you thankful for all the conviences of today. Makes for a very relaxing day and I am thankful to be able to meet these people and hear all they have to say. What an opportunity for our troops to get in touch with them selves and get their feet grounded so they can get back in touch with life. This helps veterans reintegrate into a life that does not entail the military, I would like to see our troops have this great opportunity. I think that is right on track giving our troops a therapeutic environment that involves the entire community outside the clinical environment."

Friday, October 21, 2011

This is Victor's last day and he will be working up to the last minute before flyin' outta here. Steve's busy loading calves to take to the sale in Belen (South of Albuquerque). Victor will get to help haul calves and see the sale all before boarding his plane this afternoon for Ft. Benning.

A Big Western thanks to Steve and Jacinda! You're wonderful neighbors and the best friends anyone could ever have!

Load her up!

Until next time... Via con Dios Ranger!

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We attended the 12th Annual Native American Veterans Wellness Symposium on November 5th. I had the pleasure of meeting some wonderful veterans who took time to speak with us. One particular veteran told me about his personal experience with his own horses and how they help him to decompress. He went on to tell me that on one particular day he saddled up to just get away after having a day of being fed up. He went out riding into the canyon and after some time he encountered a storm. Thinking to himself he thought how he was trying to get away from home only to be faced with what mother nature had handed him. So he braced himself against the rain and traveled back home through the canyon. The rain began to lighten and then stopped all together. He turned around in his saddle for whatever reason and saw the most beautiful rainbow, his face even lit up as he was telling me and he asked me, "You know what I learned that day?" he continued to tell me how often he reminds even himself...
"No matter what, when you weather the storm there is a rainbow at the end".
Wise words!
Many thanks to that veteran (you know who you are) for sharing your story with me and for allowing me to write it here for others to learn. -Nancy

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Horses For Heroes - New Mexico, Inc. ~ Cowboy Up!

While serving in Iraq, as a Machine Gunner with 2nd Battalion 1st Marines, I was severely wounded by an enemy sniper, when a bullet struck me in the head. I am very blessed to be alive and continue leading the life I am so fortunate to have. Returning home after combat has not been an easy task. As all combat veterans know. I am diagnosed with severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (Combat Trauma) and Traumatic Brain Injury. It seems as if I have been fighting a whole other battle in my head since returning home in 2005.

While attending a treatment program at the V.A. I met another combat veteran who asked me if I wanted to go ride horses at a ranch in Santa Fe the following weekend. He told me about this program called "Horses For Heroes - New Mexico Cowboy Up!" and that he had been, and really enjoyed it. I could not believe there was a program for us that would offer such an opportunity. Of course I agreed and we headed from the VA to Santa Fe the next Saturday.

Upon arriving we were greeted as if we were family. Returning home for the first time! Everyone sure made me feel welcomed. We started right away, being introduced to the horses and learning everything step by step. Before I knew it I was in the saddle! Talk about therapy, I was hooked! I was told that there is nothing better for the inside of a person than the outside of a horse, that is the truth. It is just you, the horse, and the instructor - Peace -. My experience that day truly opened my eyes. There really are people out there that do care and want to help.

I have been working with them every chance I get, learning more and more every time. The Horses For Heroes - New Mexico Cowboy Up! "Family" is a wonderful program and I would encourage all of the warriors returning home to come enjoy the same experience I have.

~Sterling Bucholz U.S.M.C./Ret.

Note about the photo above: If you look at the Night Vision Device mounting plate in the center of his helmet you will see the impact of the 7.62 sniper round, one of two that he was hit with creasing his head leaving him with titanium plates and earning him a Purple Heart and the Navy Marine Corps Commendation Medal for Bravery Under Fire for Continuing to Man His Machine Gun and Protecting His Unit.

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"Over there, you're always on a mission mentally. This gives you a new mission, a purpose. And they welcomed me with open arms. It's so nice here. It's a big thing to come back and be with someone who cares. ~Andres Lazo, Army Ranger

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