In January 2018, AFTER the Track teamed up with the South Burlington Veteran’s Center to offer a new program for our local combat veterans:
This pilot program came to life as we at AFTER sought to discover what our horses could offer our local community — and we were blown away.
By bringing local combat veterans to our farm, we build connections between human and animal that are unlike any other. Our veteran-horse pairs work together to build trust, confidence, communication, social skills, and decrease social isolation. We were surprised and amazed to find how many similarities these two groups — combat veterans and former racehorses — had, each sharing their own experiences with fear, pain, and distrust in their own ways. The visiting veterans taught us so much about what our horses might be feeling after coming off of the track, and in turn, our horses helped them find new positives within themselves.
After eight weeks together, our horses and visiting veterans found renewed confidence in themselves and each other, and emboldened themselves to try new things, even in the face of fear.
In our final session with our first group, each horse-veteran pair took to the round pen to practice free lunging. Mimicking wild herd dynamics, the “leader” veteran asked for work from their OTTB partner before offering them an opportunity to come to the center of the circle for a moment of connection and bonding. This process, called “joining up,” reveals the raw trust that these powerful animals can place in the hands of their human friends.
All five veterans and horses joined up, signaling a beautiful end — and a wonderful beginning.
AFTER is honored to be working with the South Burlington Vet Center and these amazing men and women who have served our country. We look forward to building and shaping this program over the next year. Stay tuned to see where we go!
Do you want to support our local combat veterans and our retired racehorses? Donate to AFTER the Track below so we can continue this amazing program!