POWHATAN COUNTY, Va. -- Lonesome Dove Equestrian Center, nestled in the rolling hills and farmland of Powhatan County, is more than just a horse farm. It’s a place where disabled veterans can ride away from their physical and psychological challenges -- at least for a short while.
Three times a month, veterans from McGuire VA Medical Center arrive where they are welcomed with open arms by gentle giants on four legs and a team of volunteers.
Instructor Heidi Carlan provides guidance for novice riders.
“It's my passion and to see people’s lives change is just beautiful to me,” Carlan said. “It's really just is about helping veterans through their physical, emotional or mental disabilities and helping them grow.”
Volunteer Sherry Newark witnesses how riders escape and heal.
“Our first veterans came out in January of 2008,” Newark said. “They go, ‘You know, if I can do this, I can do that other thing I was worried about trying because now I’ve got this disability.’”
Tempestt Giles cannot contain her joy. The 27-year-old is not only lucky to be riding, but the mother of two is grateful to be alive.
“I loved it. I was enjoying myself completely,” Giles said. “I have a traumatic brain injury”
In January, the Air Force veteran’s life nearly ended on a Louisiana highway.
“It was pretty serious," Giles explained. "The doctors told my parents to prepare for me to die.”
But through her tenacity and will to live, Giles is rebounding.
“I use my attitude to overcome every day,” Giles.
The mother of two credits the staff at Lonesome Dove with helping her get back in the saddle.
“I don’t want people to think that the accident brought me down, so I wanted to keep looking happy and being happy,” Giles said.
Watching Giles and other riders like her inspires volunteers.
“We get as much out of it as the veterans do,” Newark said.
But Newark said the most important person at Lonesome Dove is missing.
“He is here. He is so proud. I’m sure,” Newark said. “His entire focus was building this.”
Veteran Clint Arrington, the founder of the military operation, lost his battle with heart disease two years ago.
Newark said her late partner’s spirit lives on through Lonesome Dove.
“Clint would always say, ‘We want to build, courage, confidence and hope,’” Newark said.
Since Clint’s passing volunteers are doubling their efforts to expand the non-profit, which gallops entirely on donations. If there are doubts about this type of therapy ask, Giles.
“I was very excited. I love horses. They’re so beautiful and handsome,” Giles said.
A veteran grabbing recovery by the reigns.
“Yes. Definitely,” Giles said. “If I put my mind to it I can do anything.”
The 6th annual Horses for Heroes Ride on Saturday, Aug. 31 will benefit Lonesome Dove Equestrian Center. Click here for more information about the event.
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