Horses change lives of veterans

Equine therapy helps veterans heal

DENVER - This week's 7Everyday Heroes want to help fellow veterans "cowboy up." John and Jackie Nash own the Moonfall Ranch in Elizabeth that is helping veterans heal some invisible wounds. When veterans visit, the horses are rarely ridden but they do help take people on a life-changing journey.

"You can't lie to a horse. Not possible. A horse feels what's coming from the inside," said John.

John knows firsthand how well a horse can peer into the human soul.

"I was self-medicating with alcohol a lot at the time," said John.

Then, his horse named Rain nudged him back into living again.

"She would take her nose and nudge me a little bit. She was protecting me from me because I was that low. I didn't know if I wanted to keep living or what," said John.

John was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, an often debilitating condition, that reared its ugly head years after John served in Vietnam.

"She's the horse that saved my life," said John.

That gave John and his wife, Jackie, an idea. Six years ago, they opened up their ranch to other veterans battling issues like PTSD.

"It is psychotherapy using the horse as the medium," said John.

Horses have an uncanny ability to "read" what people near them are feeling. As veterans build a relationship with a horse they learn a lot about themselves. This program is called Combat Veterans Cowboy Up.

"When you come here we're going to help you out by giving you some tools to use to cowboy up and get started on the road to recovery," said Jackie.

What may seem like simple tasks are helping veterans make huge strides in being more patient, having more confidence and learning to trust again.

"Knowing I have this to come to gives me the freedom to express myself and get out of myself," said Vietnam War veteran Sheryle McNeill.

"I certainly have seen the change in her (Sheryle) character and her personality," said retired mental health professional Richard Dabney.

"Going through day-to-day life it does dawn on you, wow, I trusted today more than I thought I could," said Iraq War veteran Erica Rockwell.

"I suffer severe PTSD, anxiety, and depression. And since I've come to this program I haven't been hospitalized once," said Vietnam War veteran Nash Medina.

The Cowboy Up program takes a lot of John and Jackie's time, dedication and money, but it is making a difference.

"It's amazing how the two of them work together to keep hay and to keep 24 horses fed without any government assistance," said Medina.

"I refuse to charge a veteran anything, they've paid the price already," said John.

"Our faith tells us we need to put out a hand however we can, so we willingly do this," said Jackie.

The program is a gift that is likely saving lives.

"This is not a choice anymore for me. It is a responsibility," said John.

Combat Veterans Cowboy Up needs help to expand its program. To learn how to help, go to www.combatveteranscowboyup.org.

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