Many veterans struggle with the transition from soldier to civilian. Heroes and Horses, a Montana-based nonprofit founded by former Navy SEAL Micah Fink, helps veterans regain their footing, find new purpose, and test their strength in the wild.
The equine-centered program takes a novel approach to therapy, using expedition-style horse pack trips to teach self-reliance, teamwork and perseverance. This is combined with a leadership program, required reading, physical fitness and nutrition. In other words, it is a true 360-degree approach to addressing the physical and mental obstacles that many veterans face.
“This program is unlike any other,” says Karynne Anderson, the group’s development manager. “While we don’t have the magic answer, we believe time, space, wilderness exposure, and equine experience can be a very powerful mixture.”
During the 41-day program, participants are paired with a horse to feed, care for and learn from. It’s no vacation. After a five-day introduction to horsemanship, they set out to explore Montana’s backcountry, led by experienced guides. Weather, rugged terrain, physical challenges and other frustrations push veterans. And this is what enables them to open up in ways traditional talk therapy often can’t.
“It’s obvious that the current model of treatment for veterans isn’t working,” Anderson explains, pointing to high rates of suicide, unemployment, and prescription drug abuse. “Our comprehensive, all-encompassing 41-day program challenges veterans to look inward for positive change. In addition, we provide the space and time for individuals to understand what is truly important and what is the right move for them.”