Talk of equine therapy for military vets - and a generous gift - highlight Equest's Hooves for Heroes party

This article, written by Ellery the Elf, originally appeared in MySweetCharity on February 19, 2018.

Carolyn Anderson seems like a natural to chair Equest’s second annual Boots And Salutes fundraiser, benefiting Equest’s Hooves for Heroes program, this coming July at Texas Horse Park. Hooves for Heroes helps military veterans, first responders and their families transition to civilian life through equestrian therapy. Carolyn has a brother who’s a colonel in the army, and a sister who has cerebral palsy. “I have a soft spot for people with special needs,” she said.

Carolyn was standing in the “retro” living room of Greg Nieberding’s 1950s-style designer showhouse, where about 50 people had gathered Thursday, January 25, for the Boots And Salutes patron party. Among those enjoying the evening were Louise Griffeth, Equest co-founder Susan Schwartz, Equest board chair Andy SteingasserJames ThomasNorma Jean SchaltenbrandKailey Pretzlaff and Joe Dealey Jr. with his daughter, Beverly Dealey. Equest CEO Lili Kellogg shared the great news that Joe and the Dealey Family Foundation had generously decided to donate $100,000 annually for three years to Hooves for Heroes.

Also in attendance were Dr. John Burrus, CEO of Metrocare Services, and Equest board member Nancy Natinsky and her husband, former Dallas city council member Ron Natinsky. Ron said the couple had recently downsized from a 5,000-square-foot home in North Dallas to a much smaller, high-rise condo in the Knox-Henderson area, and were loving it.

As the guests enjoyed their wine and hors d’oeuvres, a panel discussion commenced featuring Burruss, military/combat veteran Joe Lucido, Equest program counselor Christa Collum, and Jeff Hensley, Equest’s director of clinical and veterans services. Jeff recounted that, over the last six years, more than 900 veterans and military family members had come to Equest seeking help with the likes of “identity issues, PTSD, depression, and other matters that make adapting to civilian life challenging.”

 Christa Collum, Joe Lucido and John Burruss*

Christa Collum, Joe Lucido and John Burruss*

One of them was Joe. He told the gathering that, prior to volunteering with Hooves for Heroes, “I was not a functional individual. I needed to make progress. I was a mess. All I knew about horses was they would bite you, or fall over on you. I wasn’t sure how a horse could help me, but I had nothing to lose.

“A horse is a prey animal, and I realized that’s what we [soldiers] were on the battlefield, too,” the veteran went on, telling how he’d come to “bond” with the nonprofit’s therapy horses. “Without Equest, I would not have made the progress that I have.”

Burruss and Hensley, meantime, alluded to the fact that, last June, Metrocare and Equest began one of the first partnerships in the country to research and collect data about equine therapy through focus groups. Their partnership, it’s hoped, will be a catalyst for other equine therapy programs across the country to do the same. The ultimate goal: ensuring that equine therapy is recognized as a source of mental-health treatment by the medical industry.

Boots And Salutes will be held on Friday, July 20, at Equest at Texas Horse Park. Carolyn and Equest say the “USO-style” event will include an aerial salute by World War II aircraft, live Frank Sinatra-inspired music, food and drink, and “a tribute to both our nation’s heroes and Equest’s heroes, the therapy horses.”

*Photo credit: Bob Manzano

CJ Bankhead