Sometimes circumstances and time frames can combine to rob us temporarily of a sense of who we are and where we are going! This is particularly true for veterans experiencing PTSD (Post Trauma Stress Disorder).
Broken Wheel Ranch Project and Melanie Mincey’s team work around the clock to help veterans regain that sense of ‘who they are’ restoring dreams and self-worth through their equine program. This equine program provides veterans the opportunity to build relationships with the horses – involving the vets in so many ways – grooming, general care, round pen work on the ground, learning to ride at different levels, or learning to train. The level of participation depends upon evaluation of each veteran’s background, skill, and response to the horses and environment.
Broken Wheel Ranch Project, “Helping Veterans Recover, One Ride at a Time’ is a recreational and leisure therapy center located in Bonham, Texas, serving Veterans with PTSD. Melanie Mincey, RN in Bonham, serves as Chief Executive Officer with Matthew Evans serving as Treasurer and Development Director.
Melanie and her group work to team up the veterans with their equine partners to rebuild the confidence, joy, and peace needed to regain direction and goals.
Appreciation for Horses and Vets
Melanie has always loved horses, grew up around them, participating in barrel racing and play days as a child, and weekly trail riding as an adult. Then working with the VA with over 30 years working as an RN, Melanie began to dream of combining her love of horses and love of working with veterans and to someday retire and pursue her dream of opening a therapeutic riding center.
She was inspired several years ago by an article about a therapeutic riding center in Kentucky where the children with various types of problems made astounding progress. This progress was made possible by a unique experience that comes from relating and working with equines building trust, confidence, and emotional connection with the horse.
Two years ago Melanie, still some years from retirement, found an opportunity to take over a project with veterans that would become the Broken Wheel Ranch Project realizing her dream while still working full time in May 2010. She has been thrilled by the support from both individuals and some businesses to contribute time and effort to help provide these recreational therapy services to veterans with PTSD with no charge, even though the horse program is expensive to maintain.
No Charge to Veterans for Horse Program
“Veterans pay nothing for our services at this point,” she said. “However, they volunteer along with many others to make this place work like it does. Horses take a lot of care, grooming, feeding, watering, shoeing, cleaning stalls, etc. Right now we are not receiving any donations in hay or feed for our project, but would welcome any donations to help us continue providing this service free of charge. We love to see veterans helping veterans, because they can relate and encourage each other.’
“We receive most of our veterans through word of mouth, certain activities that we participate in as a group, and through small ads that we run in the local paper,” she added. “Right now we serve around 20 veterans on a regular basis. We have a horse herd of 45, mostly Quarter Horses, but we also have some Thoroughbreds, Paints, and four Arab-Quarter Horse crosses. We have 10 schooled horses and 10 in training. Our horses have to be reliable and dependable and not easily spooked in different situations, such as trail riding along the lake or in the woods.” Adjoining parcels of land that have been in her family for some time, allow easy access to trail riding along Timber Creek behind Bonham Lake.
Broken Wheel Program
Melanie said, “During the summer, different veterans come out every day of the week if they are local. Some from Fort Worth and surrounding area may only come once a week to ride and work with the horses.” She said, “We ride and have fellowship every Sunday after cowboy church.”
“After evaluation, we introduce our veterans at certain levels to the horses,” she said. The staff encourages the veteran from the start to learn, to build respect and relationships with the horses, other veterans/staff, and then to set goals.
“Some enter the recreational program either helping care for the horses, grooming, feeding, or working on ground manners,” she said. “Whatever activity they are performing, grooming the body, head, tail, cleaning hooves, or feeding/watering, etc., we teach them to stay at 45 degree angles, out of kicking range and where the horse can see them.”
“The horse is a prey animal that does not always feel comfortable to come to you and be led away from his buddies,” she added. “We emphasize giving two eyes, no fast movements, loud noise, or aggressive behavior, and keeping a relaxed stance as you approach the horse.”
“We try to use some of Clinton Anderson and Pat Parelli methods and philosophy,” she added. “We are a part of Client Anderson’s No Worries Club and hope to attend one of his seminars in 2013. Several of our vets have already attended last year, but we hope to attend one of his seminars together as a group this year.”
“When riding, we try to emphasize safety first by reconnecting with the horse, approaching with respect, and staying aware of other environmental elements (high wind, other horses running or bucking through the arena or pasture, dogs barking, or other livestock or deer around),” she said. “We teach one rein stops for safety, emphasizing trying to keep the horse supple and respecting the rider, rather than fearing the rider.”
“We are recreational only as we do not have a physical therapist on staff yet; however, we are working on PATH Certification for therapy for other types of debilitation that do require physical therapy,” she said.”
PATH -Hippotherapy and Recreational Therapy
Pam Richardson, Managing Director of Shadow Ranch Therapeutic Riding Center in Sulphur Springs, TX, provides some mentoring for the Broken Wheel Ranch Project. She explained, “The PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International) standards cover both Recreational Therapy and Hippotherapy. She explained some differences between how the two organizations, Shadow Ranch and Broken Wheel, work towards the same overall goal.
In general, for physical disabilities, “the horse most perfectly imitates the human gait. For instance, for amputees or persons with spine injury, you are giving them the horse’s body to move with the same type of motion that they had before the injury. The paraplegic gets the same type of work out with their buttocks, spine, organs, and muscles that the person used when he was able to walk.”
“For emotional disabilities,” she said, “We assist in building trust, self-esteem and new levels of personal growth, all of which is provided at Broken Wheel.
“In Recreational Riding Therapy, the rider practices control over the horse,” Pam commented. “In Hippotherapy, the goal is not horsemanship but physical therapy.”
“Even though therapeutic riding is generally not covered on medical insurance, data is coming out of Germany and other European countries on how effective it is,” she said. “The US is just now coming up with this data. For instance, UT Southwestern just published a paper in 2011 that 85 – 88 per cent of all autistic riders benefited from horse therapy. We feel that the Broken Wheel Ranch Project has the opportunity to work with many area veterans in the future.”
Becoming Part of the Broken Wheel Family
Requests to work with their program come through self-referrals. When veteran asks to be part of program, Broken Wheel staff and board assess if the veteran is suitable for the program in a team approach. The team assessment determines if the person is capable of working with horses and staff in a recreational therapy setting. Melanie said, “Approximately 90% of our riders are veterans with PTSD, with about 10% with non-veterans with various types of disorders.”
Darnell Matthews – Vietnam Vet – Winner of the 2012 Poker Ride
One Vietnam veteran, Darnell Matthews, became part of the Broken Wheel ‘family’ two years ago.
Darnell commented, “This gives me the experiences I need for stress relief, to be out of doors, and to be with a great group of people and some good horses.”
“I rode a two-year old on the Poker Trail Ride fundraiser at the Caddo Grasslands this fall that we broke recently,” he said. “Maverick (Maverick Zoe Parr, a sorrel overo Paint) was born when I first came to the ranch out of a mare that I love to ride and work with. So I was very proud of him. He did great and we came up with the winning hand even though this was his first time on the trail and in the woods as he faced things he never experienced before. Maverick is great; however, I fell in love with Pal, a 16-month-old Quarter Horse and hope he will be my next project.”
Quinn Sanders – Operation Desert Storm Vet
Quinn Sanders, Operation Desert Storm Veteran, has also been with the program for two years. He likes to ride Casper, a 17-hand cremello Thoroughbred, leading trail riders along the Timer Creek.
Casper at first was a real challenge for Quinn, as he had not been on a horse since the age of six. When he looked at the size of this horse he had some doubts; however, working with Casper through the program they have become real trail buddies and leaders for the rest of the group.
One of the major events in 2013 will be the August 2013 National Snaffle Bit Association (NSBA) World Championship Show special event called “Heroes On Horses.” This competition is tentatively slated for Saturday, August 17 in Tulsa. Disabled veterans from across the country will ride against one another in this NSBA special event called “Heroes on Horses.” Melanie said, “We are so excited about being invited to this NSBA event in Tulsa. We hope to do some fundraising to help with the expense of traveling to this event.”
For more information on the Broken Wheel Ranch Project, visit https://www.facebook.com/Broken-Wheel-Ranch-Project-262735437181103/.