The Horses at Camp Cowboy
Camp Cowboy in Kempner, TX, connects its students, veterans and people with emotional trauma, with horses. Working with the horses in Camp Cowboy’s 90-day program gives the students something to help them work through the stress they have in their lives. The program gives them a chance to keep moving and keep doing something productive, taking their minds off of anything else. And they often learn how to handle themselves from learning how to handle the horses.
Kyle and Hercules
Kyle is a student instructor at Camp Cowboy in Kempner, Tx. The program at Camp Cowboy helps people who need to overcome emotional trauma by connecting them with horses. When Kyle started the program at Camp Cowboy, he was readjusting to civilian life after service as a combat marine. He was also coping with a major loss. Working with Hercules changed his life. He opened up to Hercules, and he opened up to the people close to him.
Jeff and Sarge
Jeff started his service to our country as a member of the National Guard. After two and a half years of service, Jeff decided he wanted to do something more. That’s when he joined the Army. He served as a medic over two tours in Afghanistan before being discharged for a back injury.
“As a medic in the Army it’s kind of hard to hold people and all the gear if you’re hurt.”
His back injury wasn’t the only pain he returned home with. Life as a civilian was different to say the least. He wanted to stay away from people. And that made him realize he needed to find an outlet. That’s when Jeff found out about Camp Cowboy. He didn’t know anything about horses going in, but now he gets so much out of them.
“I don’t like civilians and Sarge calms me down, so I can deal with people outside of my family.”
Jeff is now on his third time through the Camp Cowboy program, and he’s working with his third horse, Sarge. He isn’t the easiest horse to work with. Sarge has impaired eyesight. That means Sarge has a little less confidence in his maneuvering. It also means that Jeff has to rely more on his voice and physical cues to help direct Sarge. Jeff thinks that he and Sarge both get a lot of the same out of their time together.
“He gets the same thing I do. A sense of normalcy.”
Jeff has found a place where he can be relaxed, and where the annoyances of civilian life don’t get to him. That’s what makes programs like Camp Cowboy so important to support. And that’s why we support them.
Charles and Hagen
Charles was in the Army for twelve years. The first few years saw him visiting Korea, then Germany, then he was sent to Iraq. He left the Army for a while but said he missed the sense of camaraderie which goes with it, so he signed back up. But when he returned to civilian life again, the sense of camaraderie was still missing. He said that he felt a detachment from society, and from other people, even his son. That’s when he began the program at Camp Cowboy and met Hagen, a horse who had sustained an injury to the left side of his face. Charles and Hagen both had scars, and they found camaraderie in each other.
“We have a connection…We both have pain…and you have to find a way to work through it.”
Hagen has taught him a lot about how to approach life as a civilian. Now Charles is able to slow down. Because of his work with Hagen, Charles can now approach things without having to think about them in the Army mindset which comes naturally to him.
“Instead of trying to beat everything into submission, this program helps you deal with life, with animals, in a more respectful and tolerant way.”
Not only has it helped him think more calmly outside of Camp Cowboy, but he said it’s also made him a better father. When he brings his son to Camp Cowboy, he feels like he’s teaching him valuable life skills which his son won’t find in most other places. Charles thinks that something as simple as cleaning stalls for extra money helps his son connect more with the physical world around him. And being around Hagen has taught Charles more about how to be a father.
“Learning more about myself and how to discipline Hagen has been beneficial in raising my son. It’s taught me — kind of like sandpaper — which rough areas that I need to get rid of.”
Now Charles brings his son out to Camp Cowboy on a regular basis, and he’s learned a little bit more about how he can communicate with him. The experiences with Camp Cowboy have brought more connection into his life. We’re happy to be part of that connection.
Christine and Jade
She used to bite. She used to kick. Jade was one of the more difficult horses at Camp Cowboy, a non-profit in Texas that connects horses with people who have emotional trauma. Their work helps with things like anger, anxiety, even PTSD. Jade had a lot of behavioral problems, which made it hard for students at Camp Cowboy to work with her. But Tony Cole, the director of Camp Cowboy, had a feeling she might be a good fit with Christine.
“There were some real, deep seeded issues in the beginning. Since then Christine started working with Jade. That horse stomped her, and kicked her in the first two weeks.”
-Tony Cole, Director at Camp Cowboy
But, Christine wanted to keep working with Jade. She knew why they were put together. Christine, who was on a bad path in life, even saw a little bit of herself in Jade.
“I come from a very troubled past, and I’ve been in trouble, and I’ve hurt people, and I’ve done wrong things for so long. I was once like Jade. Very mean, pushy, not wanting to do things. And she was very mean. Very, very mean. She stomped on me, she’s kicked me, she has bitten me. I was very afraid of her. There have been times I thought I lost a toe, she stepped on me so hard.”
Despite the difficulty, Christine kept coming back week after week. It was a slow process. It took Christine forty-five days of the ninety-day Camp Cowboy program just to get Jade to listen while in the pen. But eventually Jade started to listen.
“You started seeing both of them getting a little softer and a little softer…The horse was interacting with other horses, the horse was calmer in the stall, it ate better…[Christine] started laughing and interacting.”
-Tony Cole, Director at Camp Cowboy
After the weeks of hard work, things started to turn around. Christine started to get Jade to open up, while opening up herself. Jade was becoming more peaceful, and Christine is proud to be the one who made that turn with Jade.
“I was able to put my kids on her…because she was so calm and docile. I did that. That is what I did.”
For Christine, Jade has helped her work through anxiety, and trauma. For Jade, Christine has served the same role. They’re both happier now. They’re both more trusting of people. And they’re both working one ride at a time to continue getting better. That bond is the reason Feed It Forward is happy to support organizations like Camp Cowboy.