The Heroes and Horses program addresses the challenges facing both combat veterans and wild horses by empowering them to work as a team.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a very real challenge for combat veterans. Statistics show we need to do a better job of assisting veterans with this complicated disorder. Heroes and Horses, a program for veterans based in Montana, takes a unique approach towards addressing PTSD.
Micah Fink, a ten-year member of the Navy SEAL Teams, founded the program in 2014. “The mission and goal are two-fold – education and rehabilitation,” says Micah. “On a larger over-arching scale, we feel it is incredibly important to change the story of PTSD, and most importantly, how we address it. There are over 600 non-profit organizations focused on veterans, billions of dollars are spent every year, and yet suicide rates for these individuals are on the rise – clearly, something isn’t working. That is why I created Heroes and Horses.”
The three-phase program is available to qualified veterans at no cost, and involves wilderness survival training, pack trips, and eventual integration into a working program at a cattle ranch or wilderness outfit. The veterans learn valuable skills, leadership and teamwork, and are empowered for personal growth by challenging the things that challenge them.
The 500 Miles Project
Over the last year, Micah and his team has been hard at work developing The 500 Miles Project. It’s a short film that explores the universally-applicable themes of purpose and change. People, nature – and in the film, horses – change in two ways: through pressure and time. “Our goal with this film was to show the parallels between the un-purposed Mustang and the un-purposed veteran, and how intertwined their lives become through our program,” says Micah. “The wild Mustangs in the film are the same horses that our veterans will use during the upcoming program, and it’s amazing to see the transformation from what these animals are like at the beginning of the 500 miles, to how they are at the end.”
“The inspiration for creating this film was to tell a human story that everyone can relate to,” Micah continues. “This isn’t necessarily a veteran story, or a wild Mustang story; this is a story about how each and every one of us is searching for purpose, and that it’s through pressure, time – and sometimes pain and suffering – that we figure out what our path is.”
Horses as mirrors
Horses act as mirrors for humans, and can give us an enormous amount of insight into who we are and what our struggles are. Horses often react according to what is happening inside their human counterparts, giving those humans insight into the various emotions that they may be avoiding or pushing aside. “The humans and horses involved in our program are being asked to build an enormous amount of trust in each other, and the shared intensity of experiencing massive mountain switchbacks, remote wilderness, and multi-weeklong expeditions quickly results in an intense bond,” says Micah.
Over the course of The 500 Miles Project, an intense pack trip through New Mexico and Arizona, the horses are ridden approximately 500 miles, hence the name of the film and project. “I came up with that number based on my years of experience developing and building the Heroes and Horses herd from 0 to 40,” shares Micah. “From my experience, it can take roughly 500 miles to train a wild horse. Add the breaking and small trips we took to “shake out” any problems, and the horses are all pretty much in the 700-mile club”.
Through both Heroes and Horses and The 500 Miles Project, Micah and his team are hoping to help increase awareness of the issues facing both combat veterans and wild horses, and shed light on the fact that current methods of assistance are not working. They also want to change the way people view veterans and PTSD.
“Combat does not make you sick or give you a disease; it changes you like any life experience,” Micah says. “That is what life is supposed to do. It’s these challenges that provide us with the opportunity to make choices that either lead us to a greater understanding of ourselves, or take us further away. People, horses and the environment all change the same way. When you begin looking inward for answers, instead of relying on the external, you find a true authentic purpose – and this is what allows you to overcome your external circumstances.” Thanks to the fantastic work Heroes and Horses is doing, veterans and wild horses are doing just that.
Why did Micah and his team choose wild Mustangs to pair with combat veterans? “Mustangs are the toughest horses on the planet,” explains Micah. “They grow up traveling as many as 20 miles a day just getting feed and water. They are born and live in the elements and are adapted to rugged wilderness environments. The parallel between the wild horse and the combat veteran is very real. In both cases, big mismanaged budgets paired with ineffective processes lead to greater and more complex issues in which each “solution” creates another problem. Wild horses are sent off to long-term holding facilities, given injections to block fertility, and die of starvation on overgrazed ranges — and yet the problem keeps growing. So, just as with American veterans, it’s a process issue. Wild horses are not the problem, nor is combat – it’s the approach we take to “fix” these issues.”
How you can help
The 500 Miles Project is looking for a corporate film title sponsor for this project, which would allow them to reach a larger audience. If you are interested in sponsoring this unique and ground-breaking film, please email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also help by donating funds, horses, trucks and trailers, in addition to supporting their mission by sharing it on Facebook and Instagram. For more information on Heroes and Horses, please visit their website at www.heroesandhorses.org.