SHOSHONE, Idaho — Hiatus Ranch kicked off its inaugural Veterans Equestrian Program over the weekend, welcoming three participants to work with horses and a variety of other animals on the site.
“The veterans have been more than willing to learn and eager to get up and help work with the animals," said Joshua Burnside, owner and founder of Hiatus Ranch. "From cleaning pens to milking goats to brushing out horses, just everything there is to do, it’s just amazing.”
This first program is serving as a test run for the ranch and will only last two weeks instead of 30 days like other planned programs.
The veterans currently in attendance say they're enjoying their time on the ranch and in the program.
“I didn’t expect it to have the full ranch experience," said U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Israel Sullivan. "I enjoy every minute of it. I enjoy taking care of the animals. I learned a lot from Josh and his coworkers.”
This program is the first time the group has experienced working and making a connection with horses.
“To not even have to hold his rope and he follows me around. He wants to come up and nudge me and wants me to pet him. In just the short time I’ve seen, and I didn’t realize it, they would make a bond that quick with someone," said U.S. Army Veteran Ricky Woods.
While the horses are there to serve as a therapeutic resource, the ranch does have a psychologist on site. However, the approach is very different compared to other veteran programs.
The doctor is directly involved rather than just acting as an observer. They work with the horses and veterans on a regular basis, allowing them to be more comfortable and willing to talk.
“They can start bonding and deepening and being more vulnerable, and that's what we want," said psychologist Nina Clark Ericson "Because these veterans have been through the medical system, and treated like, ‘What do you have?’ What’s the problem?,’ checking things off, like the person in the corner, 'I see this, I see that.' That’s not my attitude at all.”
There are only three participants for this round, meaning everyone is able to communicate clearly, feel involved, and get to know each other without someone falling through the cracks.
“Your input is felt and heard, more so than it would be if there were maybe even as much as 10," said U.S. Army Veteran Kanisha Morgan. "I think 10 would probably be too many.”
Even after such a short time in the program, all participants say this type of program is an opportunity that many veterans should take advantage of if given the chance.
"It’s been pretty relaxed, and they can all concentrate on us individually,” said Sullivan.
One of the veterans also felt it could really help someone who is going through extreme circumstances.
“No matter what it is that you’re going through, but especially if you’re dealing with PTSD, depression, and other mental health issues. I just wish it was available to everyone. It’s a great program,” said Morgan.
Ricky Woods works at a veteran drug court program in Tennesee, and after being with the animals, he has seen the value this type of program can have for others and hopes to bring it back home.
“Now that I see how much a horse can be to someone, whether they’re suffering from PTSD or addiction, that’s one of the programs I’m really going to try to hook up with some people back home.”
While the program only just started, there are already plans for the future.
Josh hopes to offer three or four programs every year and eventually work with the Mountain Home Air Force Base to provide some other unique opportunities for those in attendance.
Until then, Josh is looking for volunteers to help out with some of the work still needed on the site. He also encourages anyone who would be willing to help his cause to donate to the ranch through their website.