WUFT News

Combat Boots To Cowboy Boots: Florida Veterans Learn Horse Care

By on October 22nd, 2013

Veterans in Ocala are trading in their combat boots to transform from soldiers to cowboys.

On a 17-acre farm in Ocklawaha, eight rescued horses at Sugar Plum Ranch have made new friends — three young military veterans who needed them just as much during a time of readjustment.

“Horses are healing animals,” said Jen Elliott, program director of Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots. “That’s how it is.”

Elliott started the strength-based vocational program on her farm through her nonprofit organization, Horse In Miracles Inc.

The five-week training program provides military veterans with the basic skills of horse care needed to become employed on farms.

The first group of participants started on Sept. 24. They  learned to approach, groom, feed and halter horses, clean stalls and use farm equipment.

Elliott said because many veterans who served after 9/11 started at a young age, they returned from the military without any education or job opportunities.

“I wanted to develop something that will make them feel good about themselves,” she said.

When Elliott thinks a participant is ready, she reaches out to various farms in the Ocala area to see where the participant will fit best.

The program not only helps veterans find jobs. It assists them with transitioning, such as overcoming the rush of the military by learning how to have patience with the horses.

“This is a good environment for them,” Elliott said. “They’re not sitting in a little office trying to do something on a computer. They’re outside interacting.”

The group meets Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Thursdays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., so participants can get accustomed to the horses’ morning and afternoon routines.

The veterans get weekly worksheets teaching them how to identify specific problems with horses.

Elliott said that with time, the veterans start recognizing details about the horses and their actions, such as when their eyes get big or their nostrils flare.

“That’s where the communication comes — them just noticing,” she said. “That’s how you become a great horseman.”

Elliott said the similar qualities of a rescue horse and a wounded warrior — such as feeling a sense of hyper-vigilance and hyper-awareness, communicating through body language, working in a herd or unit and easily feeling claustrophobic — lead to a mutual understanding between them.

“These guys really get it with the horses,” she said. “If you don’t have that kind of natural instinct and natural experience, it takes a long time.”

Of the three participants, two have gotten part-time jobs on farms in Ocala.

William Drew, one of the participants, joined the military at 16 and started basic training during his junior year of high school. He worked as a combat engineer in the Army National Guard and at a call center for DirecTV for more than five years collectively.

“I couldn’t pick up where I left off with the military,” he said, “and at first it was a bummer because it was something I really wanted to do, but I had to look for something else.”

At 26, he spent months looking for work in Lake City without any luck until he saw Elliott’s advertisement on ocala4sale.com.

Drew had never been around horses before he started the program. Just four weeks later on Oct. 15, he was offered a weekend job on a farm in Ocala working with world-class Arabian horses.

Frank Hennessey, owner of Hennessey Arabian LLC, said that during his interview, Drew demonstrated a sincere commitment to this program and a willingness to learn.

Hennessey said he intends to continue supporting the program by providing internships for the veterans because this program is designed to fill an acknowledged need.

Barb Hall, an instructor for the program and member of the Horse In Miracles Inc. Board of Directors, has been in the horse business for 50 years. She said the most rewarding part has been to see the boys learn and be happy.

According to Elliott, it has been helpful for the veterans to hear from Hall’s perspective and her own.

“We both have such different ideas about things,” she said, “but that helps because every farm is different.”

Drew said he has learned a great deal from both instructors.

“Without them, I don’t know where I would be right now to be honest,” Drew said. “I’d probably still be looking for work.”

Elliott said that although the horses are usually suspicious of humans because they have been abused and mistreated, they also benefit from the program.

“They need to learn other humans are OK,” she said. “Now they’ve learned we have four people who take care of them and love them.

The program is open to veterans of all ages, including the disabled and even those not necessarily looking for employment, but who want to learn and be around horses.

The next group of participants will start in January.

Elliott said she wants the program to be free for veterans. She is trying to get the community involved by sponsoring a veteran for $500.

“The appreciation that they have for the horses is just wonderful,” Elliott said. “It makes your heart sing.”


This entry was posted in Florida and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
 

More Stories in Florida

Police Identify Shooter as FSU Alumnus

The gunman who shot three people at Florida State University’s library early Thursday before being killed by police was a lawyer who graduated from the school, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press.


Undated arrest photo of Chadwick Banks.

Chadwick Banks Executed By Lethal Injection For Double-Murder

Chadwick Banks became the 20th person executed under Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday. The 43-year-old was put to death after being convicted in the 1992 slaying of his wife, Cassandra Banks, as well as the rape and murder of his 10-year-old stepdaughter, Melody Cooper. Eighty-nine people have been put to death in Florida since executions resumed in the state in 1979.


Pastor Zach Zehnder of theCross Church in Mount Dora speaks to the crowd in an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for world’s longest speech marathon. Zehnder ultimately spoke for more than 53 hours.

Mount Dora Pastor Attempts To Break Guinness World Record For Longest Speech

A Mount Dora pastor may have broken the Guinness World Record for the Longest Speech Marathon. The speech, which lasted over 53 hours, was used to raise money for a local cause.


(From left) Mitch Holeve celebrates Garrett "G-Money" Holeve's victory against David "Cerebral Assassin" on Saturday night. G-Money won by submission.

MMA Fighter G-Money Victorious Over Cerebral Assassin

Mixed martial artists Garrett “G-Money” Holeve and David “Cerebral Assasin” Steffan fought on Saturday in Sullivan, Missouri. G-Money defeated his opponent in their much anticipated bout by submission in the second round.


Garrett Holeve poses in the sunlight shining through a room full of punching bags at American Top Team in Weston. Florida on Oct. 19. Despite having Down syndrome, Garrett has proven himself to be a formidable opponent in mixed martial arts, or MMA. “You have to adjust a little bit, but you don’t want to go too easy on him either,” said John De Jesus, professional MMA fighter and occasional sparring partner for Garrett. “You can’t let him connect on you because he’ll knock you out!”

G-Money: In The Cage With Down Syndrome

Garrett “G” Holeve has Down syndrome, but his condition isn’t stopping him from pursuing his passion — mixed martial arts. G will face David Steffan on Nov. 8 in a long overdue fight against the odds.


Thank you for your support

WUFT depends on the support of our community — people like you — to help us continue to provide quality programming to North Central Florida.
Become a Sustainer
I want to support FM 89.1/NPR
I want to support Florida's 5/PBS
Donate a Vehicle
Day Sponsorship Payments
Underwriting Payments