NEW YORK, N.Y. — Police horses and carriage horses were not the only equines in New York City on Sept. 15 — several riders on horses in western saddles took an extended tour of the Big Apple to raise awareness about suicide among veterans.

BraveHearts, based in Illinois, took 10 veterans, a gold star father, and three support staff on a 20-mile ride through the concrete jungle, passing through Central Park, Times Square and the Freedom Tower. They had a police escort, mounted, of course.

BraveHearts is a 501c3 nonprofit with the largest program in the country using horses to serve veterans — all at zero cost to the veterans.  This ride was done in memory of the 20 veterans lost every day to suicide — one mile for each lost veteran — and in awareness of programs like BraveHearts that connect horses with veterans.

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Danielle Ambrecht, of Merrick, N.Y. was one of the people who made the ride possible. The first one was in 2017. This year a ride was also held in Washington, D.C.

Ambrecht is a native New Yorker and a veteran of the New York Police Department. She has been immersed in the Long Island horse industry since she was a young girl. She started out showing hunter jumpers and currently competes in a variety of western events.

Ambrecht worked with Meggan Hill-McQueeney, of Cheyenne, Wyo. and Aaron Ralston, Silt, Colo. to bring the horses and riders to New York.

Hill-McQueeney is a lifelong equestrian. Nationally, she has competed in both English and western events since childhood and, later, she competed at the Mustang Million. She developed her own therapeutic riding program in 1996 and began a second in 1999. In 2010 Meggan stepped into the role of BraveHearts President/COO. She is the 2015 recipient of the PATH Intl. James Brady Professional Achievement Award, honoring her great dedication, proven leadership and high ethical standards as well as her ability to develop and implement innovative, creative and effective ideas for the industry. Hill-McQueeney’s theories have resulted in the ability of BraveHearts to expand its veteran services nationally, helping BraveHearts PATH Premier Accredited Center retain its status as the largest veteran program in the nation, using innovative equine-assisted services.

Ralston is a top-ranked professional trainer and won the Gold Medal in Reining at the World Equestrian Games in Germany. He owns and operates a successful performance horse training business and has been involved with BraveHearts for the past several years helping to develop the horsemanship of veterans, volunteers and staff.

Among the riders were Trecia Rodgers of Corpus Christi, Texas, Mitchell Reno, of North Richlands, Texas, Ken Boyd, of Palatine, Ill. And Mary Jo Beckman, of Falls Church, Va.

Rodgers, US Army Veteran, served from 2009 to 2014. After returning home she was faced with emotional and physical injuries that left her angry and contemplating if life was worth living. After numerous therapies, Rodgers found horses through a friend. Within a couple of months, she began to rehabilitate and participating in daily activities that she once thought may never be possible, again. She became immersed in riding and wanting to help fellow veterans to rediscover themselves and heal. She became certified at BraveHearts in 2016 as part of the first pilot program for the Instructor Training and Certification program for veterans. She is currently working to open her own center to help reach more veterans.

Reno, U.S. Army Infantry, OIF/OEF veteran served from 2000 to 2004. He was introduced to BraveHearts through an Illinois VA program he was enrolled in. When he saw the mustangs, it was love at first sight. After his program ended, he came back from Texas to participate specifically with the mustangs at BraveHearts.  He can relate to the mustang’s hesitations and difficulty with trusting their new normal and relates what the mustang is going through to his own experience with reintegrating into civilian life. 

After years of struggling with substance abuse and PTSD attacks, Reno sees a future for him and has the feeling that everything is going to be OK. He has obtained his PATH certification and has become very involved in BraveHearts teaching veterans and becoming a Special Olympics coach to teach children and adults to prepare for the equestrian games. He will be speaking at the PATH 2018 Conference in Orlando, Fla. as the keynote speaker. His dream is to develop or work for a program in Texas to help more veterans. Reno was part of the five veterans who rode in the Trail to Zero pilot ride in 2017.

Beckman is a U.S. Navy Commander retired having served from 1973 to 1994. She is a PATH Intl. Master Instructor, PATH Intl. Certified Driving Instructor, PATH Intl. Lead Faculty/Evaluator for Registered Instructors, and a PATH Intl. Lead Visitor. She joined Loudoun Therapeutic Riding staff in 1997 and in 2007 expanded the program services to include Therapeutic Driving. From 2006 to 2011, she was the instructor for the Caisson Platoon Equine Assisted Programs which used the US Army’s horses that perform military honors in Arlington Cemetery.  Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Washington D.C. sent riders to this program as part of their rehabilitation. 

An outgrowth of this program was NARHA Horses for Heroes and PATH Intl Equine Services for Heroes programs for veterans. In 2011, Beckman was awarded the PATH Intl. James Brady Professional Achievement Award for her dedicated service to the industry. “ I have heard numerous stories about how an injured service person was contemplating suicide, visited the barn one more time, and decided against taking his/her own life. I have seen how horses can make a difference and now research has proven that equines can benefit veterans.  We need to make this information public knowledge through events such as this ride.”

Boyd is a Gold-Star Father. His son, U.S. Marine, Cpl. C.J. Boyd was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2010. After C.J.’s death Boyd’s wife, Patty attended the first Gold Star Mother’s retreat held at BraveHearts, which she said, “saved her life.” Since then the Boyds have supported BraveHearts, helping with special events, and currently sitting on the Board of Directors. They purchased a horse in 2016, fortuitously named Brother, who now holds the name “C.J.’s” Brother. Ken Byd has been riding weekly, ever since Brother has come into his life and attributes his healing to this remarkable horse and to the service; he has given to BraveHearts to help C.J.’s brothers and sisters.

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Learn about the ride and BraveHearts by visiting www.trailtozero.org .

Support the ride today by donating $100 at www.trailtozero.org/donations/donate in support of one mile for one veteran. Donors will receive a commemorative shirt.

Learn more about Bravehearts at www.braveheartsriding.org or www.facebook.com/braveheartsriding .

To learn more about other equine therapy programs see www.pathintl.org

See more Equestrian news at www.TAPintoHorses.net

Find us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/TAPintoHorses/

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