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By Sheryl Lynde | Horsetrader columnist

Anything of value we treat with the utmost care. Well, I’m about to tell you a story that has tremendous value, to the American Mustang and to our veterans who have served our country…and to our society as a whole.

My only hope is that I give the story the justice it deserves. (I will do my best.)

This is not a tragedy, it is a story of resilience, purpose and connection — a human-horse connection.

War Horse Creek is situated below the town of Idyllwild, encompassing 150 acres of indescribable beauty that will speak to your soul. It is a division of the Living Free Sanctuary, a program that offers “an innovative, immersive training program using rescued Mustangs to help veterans transition from military to civilian life.”

The inception of War Horse Creek is the combined efforts of two men: Randall Harris and Ray Barmore.

Harris, President of War Horse Creek and a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, has a variety of gifts, including a clarity of vision and an ability to inspire and effectively communicate that vision to others. Barmore, the facilities supervisor for Living Free Sanctuary and stable manager for War Horse Creek, is a longtime resident of the area and an all-around horseman. Ray has the courage and conviction to see this vision become a reality, and his talents complement Randall’s objective. He is able to provide the program’s infrastructure and ensure that Randall’s creative insights take flight.

With the rate of suicide among our veterans on the rise, this program is relevant, timely and has far-reaching applications for anyone who has experienced trauma. The efficacy of the program is substantiated by professionals in both the private and military sectors.

For many veterans, making their way back to civilian life is a difficult transition, and it’s a solitary one with little or no direction given. Sgt. Francis Kirkson says that “the hardest part of war isn’t being there, it’s coming home.”

Harold “Doc” Martin, combat veteran of the U.S. Army and a War Horse Creek advisor, candidly shares his experience.

“I thought I might die in Viet Nam,” he says. “When I came back, I found that I had died in Viet Nam. This guy that came back was someone else that I didn’t like. I mistakenly survived and came back. I would set the moral order right if I killed this person that I was.”

The most basic consideration we can extend to our veterans is a platform to be heard. But if we are unwilling to listen, we are incapable of learning.

“If society prepares a soldier to overcome natural resistances in order to perform well in battle, and then places him in a hostile environment, then that society has an obligation to deal forthrightly, intelligently and morally with the result and its repercussions on the soldier and society,” says Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman. “Largely through ignorance and the processes and the implications involved, this has not happened.”

Why the Mustang? Randall says many Mustangs descend from horses bred for the military in past centuries that were turned out to the wilderness when they were no longer needed.

“We believe it’s fitting that the descendants of horses that once carried our forefathers into battle will now help bring our warfighters home,” he says.
It’s not difficult to understand this connection. When I am in natural surroundings in an environment that is familiar to me, I feel an inner calmness — a new state of being. Things make sense.

As I throw my leg over the back of a colt for his first ride, my senses fire in unison and come to life. My awareness sharpens, I experience a higher level of mental acuity. I’m observing, listening, and feeling without judgement to read this colt’s thoughts in this moment. There is a heightened awareness, a mindfulness that allows me to tune out outside stimuli and focus. I’m listening, I’m learning and I’m experiencing that “human-horse connection.”

The healing aspect of the human-horse connection was not lost on Randall Harris, nor Ray Barmore.

The veteran and the Mustang, two warriors. Both finding common ground in unfamiliar circumstances . The Mustang, separated from his band of brothers, his senses on high alert, raw instincts undiluted from domestication. Ready to fight or take flight. The veteran, feeling isolated even though he is on familiar ground. He is no longer the person he was that left to fight for his country. He, too, is on high alert; it served him well in order to perform in unimaginable circumstances. He was part of a unit that stood together, but here he stands alone. Together, face-to-face, the veteran and Mustang discover that connection, the human-horse connection.

More on War Horse Creek: https://youtu.be/ayALfXoGXqU


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