NAMPA, Idaho — Last week, the Idaho Cutting Horse Association held a clinic for veterans, and Saturday night, those same veterans put the skills they learned to the test.
"I fell in love with it instantly and I would like to pursue it more when I get back home," Bobby McHugh, one of the veterans, said. "I learned so much."
Wishes for Warriors, a non-profit that supports veterans in their healing process, partnered with the ICHA to host this event. Several veterans from all across the U.S. came to the Horse Park to do just that.
"This night is really good for letting us know that there are people out there supporting what we did," said veteran Mitch Gentry. "It's getting our minds off the things that are currently going on and really helped us just relax and have fun."
Along with horse therapy, and after learning how to cut cattle, the veterans competed to raise money for Wishes For Warriors. They were judged by some of the best horse cutting trainers in the nation as the crowd donated money.
"You can't imagine what it means for us to share our livelihoods and our western way of life with them, and seeing the guys here, knowing what they have done and sacrificed for us is huge for us," said Will Nuttall, a professional trainer. "We gladly gifted our time to these guys and to see these guys come and enjoy part of our lifestyle is unequal. It was amazing and special."
Most of them had either never ridden a horse before or barely at all, but, during the competition, you couldn't tell.
"I had a great horse and great cattle to cut," Gentry said. "It was so much fun."
"Just to see their smiles, it was touching," Nuttall said. "We were so proud."
The night wasn't just about competing and raising money; it was also a special reunion for some of the veterans.
"I got the opportunity to see a buddy that I got blown up with 12 years ago in Afghanistan," McHugh said. "This night was special. Just the ability to be able to see a buddy I served with, got injured with, and haven't seen since 2009. We talk all the time but haven't had the chance to reconnect."
"These trainers and Wishes brought me that, and they brought me a bigger family of brothers to lean on," he added.
The ICHA raised in total $15,500 for Wishes for Warriors that will provide more veterans like the ones here the opportunity to come together and experience events like these.