For many centuries horses and people have served each other in agriculture, industry and war, forming deep and reverent bonds over time.
The Sierra Nevada Horses and Heroes (SNHAH) program works to rekindle those relationships by using horse therapy to help treat veterans and others suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, physical injuries, or other afflictions due to an induced traumatic experience.
Located in Spanish Springs, Kathy Galles and her husband Dan manage and board 10 horses. Some of the horses are their own and six have been donated to serve the Horses and Heroes program. Galles said that SNHAH would really like to see more veterans get involved, especially those who served in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
“We are always trying to reach out to the VA hospitals, but one said that they couldn’t support or send vets to us because we’re not charging for the program,” Galles said. “The bureaucracy is so bad; one veteran was on a waiting list [to receive help] for two and a half years. This is why so many veterans are committing suicide.’’
Galles said SNHAH is completely free to veterans and any others that they can help.
“We want to invite anyone suffering from PSTD to come out for one day a week and spend some time with the horses,” she said.
Currently there are only a couple of veterans who are participating in the program.
One of them is Marvin Mendonca. Mendonca was in the Navy after World War II and before the Korean War, where he was stationed in the South Pacific testing atomic bombs. He has been part of the Horses and Heroes program for several months, hanging out with a 25-year-old dame named Summer.
“I heard about it from the VA and I had never had the opportunity to work with horses,” Mendonca said. “They welcomed me with open arms.” He said that the program is great because the horses get the attention they need while sharing a connection with humans. Summer is the third horse he’s worked with since being in the program.
“She’s easy to get along with and has a good temperament,” Mendonca says. When he goes out to the ranch, he starts with grooming Summer and then will walk her around the arena, exercising her and participating in games that help the horses to become more comfortable around humans. He said that at the end of his sessions with Summer, she automatically raises her hooves for Mendonca to clean them and then waits for her treats. “Horses like carrots,” he says.
“They’re like rescue dogs, horses can help veterans bond with something if another person isn’t there,” Mendonca says. “They’re not judgmental; I think that’s comforting for vets,” he added.
Although SNHAH works primarily with The Wounded Warrior Equestrian Program, Horses and Heroes is open to people needing help of all kinds. “We called it Horses and Heroes because anyone could be a hero, from firefighters and policemen who’ve been through a traumatic experience to a child fighting cancer,” Galles said.
Horses and Heroes is selling $12 tickets to the July 26 Reno Aces game against the Sacramento Rivercats, with about half of the proceeds going to the organization’s cause and to feed and maintain the horses. Tickets are on sale at the Galles Z-Bar Ranch at 1215 Sunset Vista Court in Spanish Springs or can be bought directly through Kathy Galles.
SNHAH is also looking for volunteers who can help with fundraising efforts, event planning, barn maintenance, administrative assistance, and people with experience around horses. To volunteer or buy tickets to the Aces game, contact Kathy Galles at (775) 741-9203.