Horses and Warriors

When I walked into the stables on a brisk Friday morning, canada hospital I was greeted by the smells of fresh hay, sales leather and horses. My attention went immediately to the American flag hanging front and center in the galley between the stalls. Each horse inside seemed content with eating or waiting for a tidbit from one of the helpers. I was searching for Sara Reams, the director of Camp Calvin Horses & Warriors. She quickly found me and greeted me by sticking a name tag on my sweater. Several volunteers were working around the stable at a pleasant pace to set things up for the day and prepare for the guests of honor; our wounded soldiers.

Amid all of the conversations and introductions, I couldn’t help being drawn back to the horses. I wondered if they knew what was going on? Did they know the caliber of individuals around them that day? Could they understand the role they played in the recovery and progression of the men and women that handle them? And would there ever be a way for them to say thank you?

While I’m mulling over my thoughts, I get an introduction to Spud and Doc. They are quarter horses that the Horses & Warriors use weekly to rehabilitate wounded military. Their grand stature and sheer strength is enough to caution anyone. It seems fitting to me that these amazing giants are coupled with our veterans, our military, our heroes.

The common thread between the horses and the wounded soldiers can be found in their hesitation to trust. Doc Calvin, a 16 year old gelding, doesn’t like crowds and isn’t too fond of hugs. Yet when surrounded by the men and women in the program, there is a calmness about him. Vietnam veteran, Charlie Santoriello, served in the Marine Corps and volunteers at the stables every Friday. At Doc’s other side is career Army Ranger, John Dufresne. Together these men work alongside the horse with a sense of camaraderie. Hugh ‘Hey Boy’ Smith (Airforce), Phil Hanna (Army) and WWII Naval Veteran, John ‘Jack’ Bos lend an active hand with the horses also. Everyone works together to help their fellow Americans recover from injury, both physical and mental.

Barbara Goeble enjoyed her life in the Army and was known for her happy disposition while stationed in Korea in the early 70’s. She now comes here for rehabilitation. Her short term memory is completely gone. She cannot recall what she had for breakfast or anyone she has met since her accident. But after 6 months of attending the program, Barbara remembers the horses. She is able to retain instruction given by P.A.T.H certified instructor, Marywill DuDomaine. She needs only little reminders of technique while riding. And a smile is always on her face. Today she rides Spud Sutton, a former hunter/jumper who’s life changed after he nearly drowned. They seem to understand each other. Respect is given and trust is earned.

Concerning all my earlier questions, by the end of my visit I am convinced that the horses must know. They can see the hesitation in a newly wounded soldier…his broken spirit…her uneasy stance. The gentle disposition of these horses makes them natural helpers, allowing their wounded companions time for healing.

Though I’m sure the horses do not comprehend the sacrifice of these military heroes, I would like to believe that Doc and Spud can sense their pride. That they can see the life in each face and feel the steadiness of each hand. And somehow the horses must know: they walk with lions of war and carry angels on their backs.