Program introduces veterans to healing horses

By on May 3, 2014
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Photo: Veterans from around the country embarked to Maple Park in March to participate in the pilot program for Boots and Hooves, Inc., a local non-for-profit program that was held at the Promise Equestrian Center. The program is intended to help soldiers and their spouses (or caregivers) overcome problems that result from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury and other emotional issues. Active duty service members, veterans and wounded soldiers from any branch and any time period are welcome to participate in the program. Courtesy photo submitted by Jerry Paulsen to

MAPLE PARK—Eight veterans, along with their spouses or caregivers, traveled from all over the nation to Maple Park in March to participate in the pilot program for Boots and Hooves, Inc., a local non-for-profit organization.

The brand new five-day program, held at Promise Equestrian Center, focuses on helping soldiers and their spouses or caregivers overcome problems resulting from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and other emotional issues.

The program costs $4,000 per person, and veterans or wounded warriors are encouraged to bring their spouse or caregiver. Any active duty service member, veteran, or wounded soldier from any branch and any time period are welcomed to sign up for a session.

Boots and Hooves is comprised of four co-founder members: Matt Ruddick, Gary Kempiak, Dan Nagel and Jerry Paulsen. The co-founder and President of Boots and Hooves, Inc., Jerry Paulsen, is a U.S. Army veteran who is passionate about helping veterans receive healing from the pain they are experiencing.

“I have been involved in numerous programs around the country that have helped many of our veterans and wounded warriors,” Paulsen said. “As far as I know, we are the only program in the nation that lasts five days and also includes the spouses or caregivers. Veterans will gain freedom from their past, and Equine Assisted Therapy provides an alternative to taking medication to cope with their problems.”

Veterans and their spouses or caregivers experience the healing power of horses through barn chores, team projects that include working with horses and other veterans, and counseling sessions with a licensed clinician. In their counseling sessions, veterans relate the obstacles they encounter with the horses to problems in their everyday lives. There are sessions that include the veteran, along with the spouse or caregiver, and private sessions for the veteran and for the spouse or caregiver.

One of the team projects that the veterans work on includes helping a horse through a lengthy obstacle course with no mistakes. Each veteran selects one of the many strings or rope available and attaches it to the horse. The team members then work to guide the horse with only the string in their hand to help them. If they end up making a mistake, they have to return to the beginning of the obstacle course. This project helps the veterans overcome obstacles and find answers to a problem that at first appears to have no solution, according to Paulsen.

The first-five day session in March was a collaborative effort of the co-founders and the 25 volunteers working on the ranch during that week, according to Paulsen. They also had local and national sponsors who contributed to the items and materials needed for the week.

“As a result of the program (in March), we saved a marriage and prevented a marine from being homeless by giving him a job as a ranch hand,” Paulsen said. “People in the pilot program want to come back and get together for a reunion in September.”

The marine that was offered a job as a ranch hand said that the program turned his life around, and he didn’t want to return home even though he was from another state, according to Paulsen.

“Boots and Hooves is an awesome program for combat veterans with PTSD, and their families,” said Jack Erwin, volunteer for Boots and Hooves, Inc. “People are naturally a little fearful of horses at first, but with training and exposure, they have to face their fears. This relates directly to facing their PTSD experiences. They (veterans) are also given an opportunity to bond spiritually and emotionally with the horses and with each other. There are After Action Reviews to reflect on the team-building activities in a symbolic way.”

The next program for Boots and Hooves will be held the week of June 23-27. They have a third session tentatively scheduled for Sept. 8-12. There is no deadline to register for either of these programs. Any veterans interested in these sessions or businesses looking to sponsor different items for the program can contact Paulsen at (847) 529-5200 or

“Walt Disney created his Magic Kingdom, but we created a magic ranch for veterans,” Paulsen said.