I was deeply moved by a book I read back in the mid-90s called The Man Who Listens to Horses by Monty Roberts. I was living in Amarillo at the time, and I started to really absorb the amazing western culture found in the Panhandle.
I have come to believe that any understanding of the western U.S. has to begin with an understanding of how central the horse is to it. Many of my friends there were horsemen, and I wanted to understand what the mystique was all about. It was so interesting.
I had a hurdle to get over. I was scared to death of horses. When I was a boy, I fell off of a three year old horse while she was running at full gallop through a field dotted with limestone boulders. I ended up okay, but it was a narrow escape. After that, I was pretty much done. If I wanted adventure in a saddle, the little motorcycle I had was plenty; a horse was just too big and scary. Monty Roberts’ book helped me to understand a little about why horses behave the way they do, and it changed my attitude about horses forever. I also learned from the book that there is great nobility in this amazing animal, and that man and horse can learn a lot from each other. He helped me understand the mystery.
Horses and Warriors
I have to admit that history reveals that the horse has not been treated very fairly in its long partnership with men. Sadly, for most of our time together, the horse has been treated more or less like a means to an end. When their useful lives are over, they are lucky if being put to pasture is their fate. Hopefully, that era is drawing to an end, and we are starting to explore this beautiful creature not for what we can get out of him, but for what we can learn. There is so much to learn.
There are others who have served, and the history of their treatment after their service is over is also less than perfect. I am referring to our warriors who make it back home. Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem in 1892 called “Hurrah! For The Life Of A Soldier.” Some know it better as “Tommy.” My dad, who served in World War II and Korea, knew parts of it by heart and would occasionally recite those parts to make a point about how soldiers are treated when they get home. This poem addresses the often complex relationship between the civilian and the soldier. Friends and family who have never served can scarcely understand why war veterans behave the way they do. Kipling sheds a little light on that “why.” I have attached a copy at the end of this post.
Parades and flag waving are all fine and good. They have their place, but after the flags are folded and the confetti is swept away, there is still much work to be done to help those who kept watch while we slept. The Mustang Heritage Foundation is doing that good work, and they are right here in Williamson County.
The Mustang Heritage Foundation – Saving Mustangs and Serving Veterans
The Mustang Heritage Foundation, located close to Granger, Texas, just north and east of Georgetown, is digging into the healing potential found in the relationship between the horse and the soldier, and they have struck gold. I feel inadequate when I try to explain just how it works. I just watch, shoot videos and write down what I see, but after what I have seen, I believe that it works.
The Mustang Mentor Program now being piloted by the Mustang Heritage Foundation is the subject of the attached video. The words of Byron Hogan, Program Coordinator for the Mustang Heritage Foundation, and those of Mary (Mary just wants to use her first name) and Steve Herbel, both veterans participating in the pilot program, are much more powerful than anything I can add.
A really cool and amazing part of the story is that the horses that are being used to help these veterans get their lives back are also getting a second chance at life. It is also interesting to note that these horses are not normal domesticated horses. They are wild mustangs that have been culled out of herds roaming public lands out west.
Our Land – Our Horse
The Bureau of Land Management has been tasked with managing these herds so that they don’t put too much grazing pressure on the fragile western ecology. The BLM, through its Wild Horse and Burro Program, thins out the herds and holds these animals, but instead of putting them down, the BLM makes them available for adoption in the hope that they can be domesticated for use as farm or companion animals.
That’s where The Mustang Heritage Foundation really makes a huge difference. They get the horses from the BLM, and their goal is to gentle and domesticate them in preparation for adoption. This task is monumental. First, this process takes time – more than three months per horse – and right now there are close to 50,000 wild mustangs and burros held by the BLM awaiting adoption. The Mustang Mentor program is another way to get that done.
The Mustang Mentor Program – Hand and Hoof
In the Mustang Mentor Program, the process of gentling these horses is where the veteran comes in. The veteran and the horse form a relationship whereby the veteran teaches the horse to trust and be comfortable with humans. The teaching is two-way.
The wild mustang is a prey animal, and because of this it is wary of everything. Every living thing outside the herd is viewed as a potential threat. I am told that soldiers returning from the violence of war share these same feelings. Because of these shared characteristics, the veteran and the mustang begin to understand each other intuitively and through this shared understanding, they are able to form a kind of “spiritual connection.”
Because the horse perceives and in turn reflects what is going on inside the veteran, the training is pointless unless the veteran learns how to change what is going on inside him or her. If the veteran is anxious and stressed, the horse will be too. If the veteran learns how to relax and diminish the turmoil inside, the horse will respond in kind. The veteran gentles the horse and the horse changes the veteran.
Byron calls this process “magical.” I would have to agree. Listening to Mary and Steve talk about how their lives have been changed and improved moved me more than I can say. Teaching the horse to trust humans gives the horse a second chance at life. I think for Steve and Mary, the horse taught them how to relax and trust again. Beautiful.
Please take some time to watch the video so that you can learn how Mustang Heritage Foundation’s Mustang Mentor program is changing the lives of both horses and veterans. To learn more about the Mustang Heritage Foundation’s Mustang Mentor Program go to their website or just click here. Many thanks to our friends and neighbors right here in Williamson County.
R.O.C.K., Ride On Center for Kids – Your Williamson County Neighbors Making Life Better For Kids And Wounded Warriors
“Hurrah! For The Life Of A Soldier”
By Rudyard Kipling, 1892
I went into a public- house to get a pint o’ beer,
The publican he up an sez, “We serve no redcoats here.”
The girls behind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I:
O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy go away”;
But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins,” when the band begins to play-
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it’s “Thank you Mr Atkins,” when the band begins to play.
I went into a theater as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but hadn’t none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-halls,
But when it comes to fighting’, Lord! They’ll shove me in the stalls!
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy wait outside”;
But it’s “Special train for Atkins,” when the trooper’s on the tide-
The troopship’s on the tide, my boys, the troopship’s on the tide,
O it’s “Special train for Atkins,” when the trooper’s on the tide.
Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap;
An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit
Is five times better business than parading in full kit.
Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy how’s your soul?”
But it’s “Thin red line of heroes” when the drums begin to roll-
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it’s ” Thin red line of heroes,” when the drums begin to roll.
We aren’t no thin red heroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints,
Why single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;
While it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy fall behind,”
But it’s “Please to walk in front, sir,” when there’s trouble in the wind-
There’s trouble in the wind, my boys, there’s trouble in the wind,
O it’s “Please to walk in front, sir,” when there’s trouble in the wind.
You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:
We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
But it’s “Saviour of his country” when the guns begin to shoot;
An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool – you bet that Tommy sees!