During the first 18 months of Equest’s Hooves for Heroes program, things moved at a nice, leisurely trot. We steadily increased the number of veterans and military families served, built a solid base of supporters, and gradually achieved some recognition for our work. But this spring our program took off at a full-blown gallop!
To start, the Bush Center published a piece about our program in their on-line blog and then invited several Hooves for Heroes staff and volunteers to attend President Bush’s seminar on veteran empowerment. Later in February, the Joint Chiefs of Staff Office of Warrior and Family Support recognized our program as a model program serving veterans.
In March, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff, visited Equest and pledged ongoing support for our program. During his tour of the ranch, Paul became quite a fan of everyone’s favorite, Hampton!
Momentum grew in April with Equest Hooves for Heroes picking up solid support from North Texas Military Association (NTXMA), Hunt Oil, Ruthie’s Food Trucks, Mockingbird Management, McKinney Sunrise Rotary, Throwaway Ponies, Disabled American Veterans (Garland chapter), and Rockwell-Collins. In addition, we were selected for membership in the R4 Alliance, a non-profit dedicated to connecting veterans and military families with programs offering informed, “best practice” services. Toward the end of the month, the Dallas Morning News came out to see what all the fuss was about! Click here for full story.
In early May, several of our participants and volunteers joined the rest of the Equest family in a demonstration of horsemanship for attendees of the Triple Crown Gala. For many of the long-time Equest supporters, this was their first exposure to our relatively young veterans program.
Just two days later, the Equest Hooves for Heroes team celebrated the end of the spring session in a novel way. 18 participants from three veterans classes came together for our first ever “Veterans Horse Competition”. Riders put on an impressive show for family and friends, competing for ribbons in a variety of challenging events. Ring Steward Chris Hampton kept things running smoothly while announcer Carol Chamberlin kept the crowd updated. Judge Jeannie Young praised the riders’ advanced level of horsemanship and the professional execution of the event.
We were fortunate enough to have some very distinguished visitors for the show: Lisa Hall, representing Hunt Oil; Kelly Bennett and Andy Walsh, our 2014 Hooves for Heroes Golf Classic/Veterans Tribute Dinner co-chairs; Jeremy Lock, award-winning combat photographer and U.S. Air Force veteran; Ken Wesley of Supreme Dream photography; Scott Smith of the Military Veteran Peer Network; and Teresa Woodard of WFAA-TV who did a piece on Equest Hooves for Heroes for Channel 8 - click here to see the story.
Kelly Bennett of Ruthie’s Food Trucks closed out the very special evening in grand style by presenting our program with a $2400 check --- proceeds from our selection as April’s “Ruthie’s Dozen”!
Just as soon as everyone relaxed a little from the hectic spring session, we learned Equest Hooves for Heroes was awarded a $425,000 Texas Veterans Commission (TVC) grant to continue our work! This is twice the amount awarded to any single non-profit working to improve the mental health of Texas veterans and over 25% of the total funds distributed across the state! In short, this investment from the state of Texas is a huge vote of confidence for our program!
Adding even more giddy-up to our go was the announcement that Equest Hooves for Heroes was one of seven local non-profit beneficiaries of Carry The Load’s 2014 Dallas Memorial March! Carry the Load encourages Americans to remember the true meaning of Memorial Day while raising funds to support non-profits serving veterans, military families, and first responders. This year, Carry the Load – Dallas raised over $1.1 million! In addition to being one of the select group of beneficiaries, Equest Hooves for Heroes partnered with IAVA – Texas to march with thousands of others honoring fallen heroes in the Dallas event.
Capping off a fast and furious spring was Hunt Oil’s announcement that our veterans program was chosen as a beneficiary of their employee golf tournament. The Hunt Oil Volunteer Employee group also invited some of the Hooves for Heroes staff and participants to hit the links during the event. We had a great time raising funds for our program while launching golf balls all over the countryside. After the event, our Hunt Oil hosts politely suggested we stick to riding horses from now on. Probably good advice!
As we begin the summer session and prepare to start operations at the Texas Horse Park, we can’t help but wonder, “What next? Is there a gait faster than a gallop?”