GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — A horse ranch in Eastern North Carolina is helping veterans get through hard times.
“It’s quite humbling because I don’t have to wear it. I don’t have to wear the guilt. I don’t have to wear the shame,” said veteran Stephanie Harris.
“I don’t have to wear any kind of badge here. There is no rank here. There is no … different authority levels. There is no get-up-and-go. There is none of that here that you experience in the military.”
Rocking Horse Ranch is located on Blue Banks Farm Road in a quiet Greenville community.
“I do not have to say a word to Willow, she knows it. She knows as if she served with me,“ Harris said.
Catch our “Veterans Voices” special on WNCT this Friday at 5:30 p.m.
It’s not only a home for horses, but our nation’s heroes, too.
“We were going through Desert Storm at the time. I just knew I had to go. I wanted to serve my country,” Harris said. “To know that I did that now, I’m very full of pride. I’m full of pride. There is nothing better than knowing that I did something that was going to make a difference.”
Hannah Stocks is the program director and recreational therapist at Rocking Horse Ranch. She said, “We’ll give everything to these veterans because they deserve it.”
She is serving a new mission. It involves finding healing through Rocking Horse Ranch’s Therapeutic Ground School Program. She said Willow “is the perfect horse. She’s calm, and she reads me. We connected. We were just like soulmates.”
She said Willow allowed her to share her emotions.
“She took it in, she took it. In the military, they have this saying, “I got your six.” She had my back. I loved it.”
Stocks is one of Harris’ instructors. She’s seen the impact the program has had.
“Being able to walk in this aisle and see it and experience it is like, wow, like it’s real, like it really works,” Stocks said. “As soon as she [Harris] starts grooming, she’s bonding, she’s talking to her, she’s bonding with her, and the horse responds so authentically, and so just in a pure way, because that’s their nature, horses are just magical like that.
“When the horse responds and her nature and it’s just pure. Stephanie’s able to see what she’s doing is, is right, and it’s comforting, and it’s beautiful. And she’s, and she’s good at it.”
“When I walk in, I feel like sometimes I am just full of whatever emotions I am feeling,” Harris said. “But when I am here with Willow, it seems like she just takes it. She absorbs it. And for those 45 minutes, I’m free. I’m free. She makes me happy. She makes me smile. She makes me laugh. She is just an amazing horse.”
It’s that kind of bond Rocking Horse Ranch hopes other veterans can feel, too.
“I want them to know that they are loved, they’re respected, they’re cherished and their family here.” Stocks said.
So, in the spring, they’re launching a program for veterans.
“The majority of my family’s military and some of them are already retired or are still in. It’s really cool to emotionally relate to what this is going to do for us. To be able to just focus on veterans, and just kind of specialize in them is, it’s going to be amazing, it’s going to be life-changing,” Stocks said.
The program is called “Horseshoes for Heroes” It’s a 10-week program for veterans to learn all different skills including communication and relationship building and working with horses.
“There are many things that veterans go through that we cannot explain as much as we want, to the civilian world to understand, we can’t always do that. Even if it’s our loved ones, they will never understand it,” Harris said. “You can get with these animals, and they get it.
“They say horses like hypervigilant, like we’re trained to be. So, we’re one in that aspect where we connect. They get it without having to explain. I think that’s why veterans will do well, in programs like this.” said Harris.
“Knowing it will enrich their life and help them grow skills and get back into civilian life and be really great at it and be happy again, to me, like, that’s the biggest reward.” Stocks said.
This program is more than horseshoes for heroes – it’s a way to truly bring them home.
“You walk away a little bit lighter than when you came because you’re carrying all of that with you day in and day out,” Harris explained. “When you are here, you just feel like it’s been lifted. I am telling you Willow has changed my life.”
If you would like to get involved in “Horseshoes for Heroes” or learn more about the program, you can contact Program Director, Hannah Stocks. Her email is email@example.com.
Stocks can help you fill out the paperwork. You’ll meet to connect and go over your goals.