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T e Cowboy Up! Crew, from leſt : Sterling Bucholz (USMC), Mat Moody (USAF), Chris Chaisson (USA) and Rick Iannucci (Special Forces) moving out for the gather.


Understanding both the skills, training and experiences of a veteran and life on a working


cat le ranch, Rick knew he could connect the two worlds in a way that would make sense to a veteran struggling to adjust. T e code of the cowboy is deep-seated in virtues such as cama- raderie, lending a hand to help a neighbor, working hard until the job is done and respect. Not unlike the code of a soldier. Bringing the two worlds together would not only help veterans adjust but create brand new skill sets based on abilities they already possessed. T ere are many components to the Horses For Heroes Cowboy Up! program, and as much


as these diff erent aspects of healing revolve around the cowboy code and ranch life, so too do they revolve around the healing spirit of the horse. When a veteran fi rst arrives at the ranch, they learn basic, and some not so basic, horsemanship skills.


“HORSES ARE THE BACKBONE OF THE PROGRAM” “T e horses are the very backbone of our program, and it is important that the participants


learn basic horsemanship skills, and how to properly care for our beloved equine partners,” Nancy said. T e horsemanship portion of Cowboy Up! is an essential part of their 13-objec- tive program, complete with a graduation ceremony and awarding of the “Purple Wild Rag,” in honor of their endorsement by the Military Order of the Purple Heart. It and every other aspect of Horses For Heroes Cowboy Up! is self regulated—each veteran progresses at his or her own pace. “It’s the veteran’s healing that is important, not the actual objectives in any given program,” says Nancy.


What the veteran learns


and experiences in those f irst days and weeks is fundamental, lasting— and life changing. From their training and expe- rience as soldiers, most veterans have built walls around their feelings and emot ions. Such walls were necessary to keep them safe in a form of separation while deployed, but now keep them sepa- rated from family, friends or even their own spouses and


continued next page WWW.TRAILBLAZERMAGAZINE.US • October 2012 | 75


“As veterans begin to experience the life of a working ranch they’ll be doing it with other warriors who’ve shared the same experiences— from life during deployment to stress at home, and now to life among dust, mud, sun, rain and friends. They know how camaraderie and working together is as good as it gets and is familiar to veterans. These warriors may not have felt that camaraderie for years, as the walls don’t only lock in, but lock out, too.”


T e program’s fi rst Native American graduate Alroy Billiman (Navajo) in the sorting pen during spring branding.


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