Meet Katie, Masquerade, and Charlie. Katie is big, bold and brave. Masquerade is a little shy, but trusting and playful. Charlie’s a clown, with sparkling eyes filled with mischief. Together, these three Tennessee Walking horses serve as the foundation of American Tribe Equine Therapy, an Illinois non-profit established to promote mental wellness and healing for veterans and their families.
The program’s founder, Vickie Burnette, says the trio of horses naturally gravitate toward those in need, brightening the spirits and healing the souls of veterans from all walks of life. “I’ve watch homeless vets learn to trust, relax and reconnect, as they ride and build relationships with the horses,” she says.
For others, like the older residents at the nearby VA home, the horses bring pure enjoyment every time they visit – especially Charlie. “He has a way of connecting with even the most reluctant residents,” Vickie notes. “It only takes a couple of visits, and soon they’re in the corral brushing and petting him, and spoiling him with carrots.” But if you wear a hat, beware – Charlie’s mischievous side may prompt him to snatch it.
Vickie says she’s watched as the horses transform lives, time and again. There’s Sharon, who suffered a traumatic brain injury. “The injury left her with profound balance and memory issues,” Vickie explains, “but having the opportunity to ride Katie has been life-changing.” And Sylvia, who can forget about the ill-effects of her cancer treatment, as she and Masquerade snuggle.
“These are special horses,” Vickie insists. “They way they interact with people is amazing. Somehow, even in the midst of a crowd, they can pick out the person whose soul is hurting and comfort them with a nuzzle and a hug.”