Vets find peace and quiet on horseback
By Patsy Nicosia
Winston Churchill said it first:
“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”
Especially a man—or men—who could use a little something good.
Through a program run through the Wounded Warrior Foundation, 15 veterans injured in Iraq and Afghanistan spent Thursday horseback at Sunny Knolls Farm, just outside of Cobleskill.
“You’ll be your horse’s name,” explained Kim Holmes as she introduced the vets to the horses.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been called Lady,” shot back one of the vets, a line that only became funnier the more times it was repeated.
Wounded Warriors’ Maggie Haynes works with veterans who’ve suffered direct combat stress.
“It’s a confidence-builder,” she said of the chance to ride, for many of the men, for the only the first or second time.
“It’s a chance to get them out in nature and find some peace there. Such a small percentage of the population has served and what we’ve asked them to do goes above and beyond. This is a way to reach out to them.”
Bob Frame, who served in Viet Nam, today counselors Iraq and Afghanistan vets, for Project Odyssey, which put together Thursday’s ride with the Adaptive Sports Foundation, headquartered in Windham,
Leading his mount-for-the-day, Nimue, from the barn to the warm-up arena, Mr. Frame talked about the difference between the wars.
“We didn’t get much of a welcome back. It was pretty rough, so things like this are great to see,” he said.
“On the other hand…we were in a place we wanted to be with people we wanted to be with. It was a different time. It’s harder for these youngsters today.”
Matched up with horses loaned for the day by Sunny Knolls’ boarders, the vets seemed like any group of guys:
Dane Kaimuloa flirted with everyone, including his horse, Shiraz.
It was—maybe—his third time riding, he said.
Michael Ryan looked at home on Buddy—but confessed he wasn’t.
“I’m just competitive,” he said. “And I’m athletic. Just tell me what to do and I’ll get it done. Give me information I need and I’ll go with it.”
As the first group of riders headed out on their horses, the second group piled into the back of Mac Holmes’ pickup to head up to the summit, where they posed for photos in front of an oversized American flag.
“This is what it’s all about,” said vet Keith Nations, an Arkansas native surprised to find New York State so beautiful.
“This is why we go and fight…so stuff like this can exist for our kids.”
Jesus Archuleta, half his age and from California, agreed.
The first time he enlisted, he said, it was “just because.”
The second time was right after 9/11, when he saw the Twin Towers come down.
“When I was a kid, I used to look at photos and say, ‘Some day I’m going to go see them,’” Mr. Archuleta said, “but I never got a chance. I still want to get there. I just never expected New York to look like this.”
Back at the barn, volunteer Krystal Tortorelli put the finishing touches on an American flag cake she made for the vets.
The only thing missing for her was her husband, who helped Sunny Knolls’ Kirk Holmes put the finishing touches on the trail ride while home on his two-week leave from Afghanistan.
“I know how hard it was for him when he came back the first time from Iraq,” Ms. Tortorelli said.
“This is a way for me to say thank you to these guys. A way for me to give back.”