When Veterans and First Responders Arrive Warrior Ranch For a Saturday retreat, most people are eager to start the day with some intimacy with the horses. But on Saturday, Memorial Day weekend, there’s more to reflect on before anyone takes over.

After taking the oath of allegiance, Eileen Shanahan, founder and president of Warrior Ranch, a nonprofit that provides equine therapy to veterans, first responders and their families, expressed her desire to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. importance, and asked a dozen people to come together to share their thoughts.

Former U.S. Army Colonel Geoffrey Costa took the opportunity to share news of the latest tragedy, saying: “We lost another good man last Tuesday. [West Point] My classmate, 42, just…couldn’t find a way to deal with being basically off the field but not mentally off the field. “

Stories like this are all too common, and it’s the main reason why Warrior Ranch exists. According to the latest National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, 6,146 veterans committed suicide in 2020, an average of nearly 17 per day.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among veterans aged 18 to 44, the report found. The figure does not include “drug overdose mortality,” which is classified as “unintentional injury,” or accident, and is the highest cause of death for veterinarians in this age group.

“On this Memorial Day, or any day, we lose more than our brothers and sisters on the battlefield,” Mr. Costa said. “But we’re remembering those we’ve lost since they came home.”

Members of the Armed Forces experience close camaraderie while serving. Upon return, many struggle to reintegrate into civilian life, often cut off from family and friends and isolated.

For some veterans, combat trauma and subsequent loneliness lead to depression, substance abuse and suicide attempts. Warrior Ranch participants say the program, and other similar initiatives and networks, have been critical to their recovery.

“We’ve all been through something similar, and it’s like a whole different language,” said John Shea, who recently achieved six years of sobriety after serving six years in the military police in the Air Force. “And because of comfort, it’s a judgment-free zone. We laugh, we cry. … These guys can call me 24-7, 365, and I’ll answer the phone and be there for them, and they’ll be there for me .”

While opening up to other service members is crucial, Mr Shea said he has finally reached a point where he can easily share his feelings with others outside his peer network – but it’s still not easy.

“I don’t know if I share half as much with civilians and friends as I share with people here,” Mr Costa said.

Warrior Ranch is dedicated to helping veterans cope with PTSD and other mental health challenges, such as anxiety disorders, which, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 30 percent of U.S. adults experience at some point in their lives anxiety.

After four years in the army, Fran Noack now holds a high-pressure civilian job as a dispatcher at Suffolk Police Headquarters in Yaphank. She turned to Warrior Ranch to cope with the stress of her job, but also to fulfill her desire to help others.

“I want to be a part of something that helps people and helps my fellow veterans, not just them, but first responders and their families,” said Ms. Noack, who also volunteers at the ranch feeding and tending horses. “Being able to come here and help me while I’m helping them,” she said. “And it feels like I’m actually part of a team, and I feel like I’m back in that niche that gave me the structure.”

Ms. Shanahan, a lifelong enthusiast of a military family, founded the nonprofit in 2016. She explained that horses need humans as leaders, both physically and emotionally, and can learn the body language and heartbeat of their handlers, influencing their behavior.

“It’s a place for recreational therapy,” Ms Shanahan said. “You’re away from your day and you’re not thinking about anything else. You have to be 100 percent with the horse because if you’re not, you can get hurt. They let you relax, but you have to focus.”

More experienced participants, including Mr. Costa, can lead the horses over obstacles. The 41-year-old works with Shmay, a miniature paint that’s about half the size of the ranch’s other horses, often former racehorses. Shmay came to Warrior Ranch when his owners could no longer care for him and needed hands-on training and rehabilitation to keep him healthy and domesticated. The other horses, including Sally, a former racehorse who had one eye removed before arriving at Warrior Ranch about two years ago, required more care and training than the others. Warrior Ranch trainers, volunteers, and retreat participants help these horses not only heal physically, but to overcome limitations and fears and connect with humans.

Mr Costa’s bearded face lit up as Shmay followed him over the barrier before rolling over to rub his belly. But battle-hardened veterans don’t always experience that joy. Like many of his peers, he has struggled with PTSD.

“I came back in 2011, and it was about a year or two before I realized I wasn’t doing well,” he said.

After connecting with various veterans groups, Mr. Costa felt healthy for several years, during which time he co-raised his three daughters and assumed leadership responsibilities in delivering construction supplies. But in August last year, he said he felt the feelings he had worked had resurfaced and made the conscious decision to seek treatment. He discovered Warrior Ranch, which helped him find a sense of calm and a new passion. When Mr. Costa isn’t spending his free time at Warrior Ranch, he tends his neighbors’ horses several nights a week.

“There were days when I got out there and just sat in the stables, hanging out with the horses, and I thought, ‘Yeah, that’s what I need,'” he said. “Then there were days when I put the saddle on and went out and rode it. [After] Sitting in two hours of traffic riding a horse and running around makes life so much better. For me, this heart therapy is special. “

More than 200 veterans have visited the Warriors Ranch since it opened in 2016, Ms. Shanahan said. Each retreat hosts a dozen participants, most of whom live in Suffolk, but many who come from further afield.

Albany Police Department investigator Richard Chu rose from his bed in Saratoga County at 4 a.m. Saturday to arrive at his first Warrior Ranch resort just in time.

After 17 years of service, Zhu said he experienced death firsthand on numerous occasions.

“I had a baby die in my hands, and [administering CPR],” He said. “[There’s been a] Many times, you are in a fight with someone who is trying to point a gun at you. It just builds up and you just go through these calls, from call to call, and it doesn’t bother you…until it’s built up. “

On this Saturday in May, Zhu worked with Juliet Hackett, an experienced horse trainer and the ranch’s only paid employee. As a barn manager and program coordinator, she knows how to connect veterans and first responders to their horses and get them to open up about their struggles—often within a half-hour of working together.

As they begin grooming, she emphasizes that the horses are highly sensory, unlike many of the retreat participants.

“It gave them this immediate familiar connection,” she said. “Veterans or first responders, they feel their senses have been heightened … when they walk into a room, they’re reading the room.”

The ranch also welcomes family members to retreats. Carmela Raguso and her daughters, Mila, 11, and Eva, 10, have been visiting Warrior Ranch since 2018. Christopher Raguso was killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq.

“I think when I first came, the girls were here and they loved it,” she said. “I was still quiet back then, I was still processing a lot of things, standing back and watching the girls having fun…it helped my soul.”

Eventually, Ms. Raguso began working with horses and developing close relationships with veterans who had gone through unique struggles. Those interactions, she said, “made me feel like there was another side to come out of.”

A family’s morning begins with Calverton National Cemetery, where they visited the sergeant. Raguso’s tomb. Not knowing if anyone was there that day, Ms. Raguso decided the family could go to Warrior Ranch.

“It means everything that we can drive into the car and go right into,” she said.

Ms Shanahan said seven years into her project, the ranch was still surviving “year after year”. For her, financial stability means the ranch can open every day for the next Raguso woman in need of shelter.

To make this happen, Ms. Shanahan said she is actively seeking grants and is considering launching a fundraising campaign that would rename parts of the property in honor of the donor.

“We raise $150,000 to $200,000 a year,” she said. “But we spend that much money every year because it’s a ranch and you have to feed the animals … between the hay and the grain, and then you have veterinary bills, and you have training costs, medical bills.

“85 to 90 percent of that is volunteer work, and we need funding to be open seven days a week,” she continued. “We need to be here so if someone has a bad day they can pull the door and come in.”

more information about Warrior Ranch and ways to support its mission, call 631-740-9049 or email [email protected].

Anyone with suicidal thoughts is encouraged to call 988 to access the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Veterans and Active Duty can access the Veterans Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988 and selecting option 1.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *