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USAFA’s Equestrian Center helps wounded warrior ‘thrive in life’


(U.S. Air Force Academy Equestrian Center Manager Billy Jack Barrett (left) and Dr. Dave Andrews, former Air Force major and medic pose for a photo at the Equestrian Center. (U.S. Air Force photo/Laurie Wilson)

By Laurie Wilson, Feb. 6, 2018

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — Winston Churchill said “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of man.”

Dr. Dave Andrews, former Air Force major and medic, believes this is absolutely true.

His recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder started with a four-legged “therapist” stabled at the Air Force Academy Equestrian Center, part of their Warrior Wellness Equine Therapy Program.

The horse turned Andrew’s life around.

“After what I’d been through, I had trouble even reconnecting with people again and I didn’t know what to do — I really struggled,” he said while strolling near the stables. “Fortunately, in 2010, I found out about the program and came on out. That corral right there, 10 feet to our right, is where, no kidding, my very first step to getting better happened.”

Launched in 2009 by Equestrian Center Manager Billy Jack Barrett and Jeanne Springer, an equine specialist, the Warrior Wellness program helps wounded service members transition back into their home life and society through supervised interactions with horses.

“These animals can sense brokenness. They can sense the injury,” Springer said. “We assist military members and their families overcome the emotional, mental and physical hurdles that too often come from being in a combat environment.”

Participants interact with the horses to enhance the coping skills needed to handle their stress, anger and daily routine.

Barrett and Springer also founded the Remount Foundation, a nonprofit that covers the cost of the equine therapy for participants, soon after launching the wellness program.

“We’re here to help wounded warriors, whether their wound is visible or not, to relearn trust and fully live again,” Springer said, “and to not burden them with the costs associated with getting well.”

For Andrews, recovery began by learning to trust the horse’s tranquil spirit.

“I realized I might see a hill and think ‘ambush sight’, or a culvert and think ‘hidden explosive’ but the horse wasn’t alarmed,” he said. “I began trusting the horse’s calm bit by bit and week by week until I could learn a new perspective – not just live with my disability, but thrive in life.”

Following treatment at the stables, Andrews medically retired from military service and earned a doctorate in management. He returned to Colorado Springs to work for NORAD. All that time, he remembered the power of his equine healing experience and believed it should be available to more wounded service members.

“Over half of the warriors who go to the Equestrian Center for therapy have had either suicidal ideation or suicidal attempts. Half.” Andrews said. “This program literally saves lives, like it did mine, by allowing wounded warriors to get on a healing path for free.”

Andrews reconnected with Barret and Springer in 2012 and they asked him to join the Remount Foundation board. Awareness of the wellness program had been consistently growing and the expenses involved with providing equine therapy to more participants was keeping an increasing pace.

Andrews stepped into the role of Remount’s president in 2015 and used his business prowess to embrace the Defense Department’s initiative to create public and private combined partnerships that benefit resiliency and mission readiness programs.

He recently accepted a check for $35,000 on behalf of Remount Foundation from the Colorado Independent Auto Dealers Charity nonprofit to defray therapy costs, making the program available to yet more wounded warriors across the nation.

“We are so excited to have been given the opportunity to now do more for more of our deserving warriors,” Barrett said. “We’re also excited that this program caught the attention of German researchers, who are interested in using our program as a model for a program of their own.”

As a result of the increase in assistance from private organizations, Remount Foundation has broadened the scope of those it serves.

“The concept for Remount now is that we can take veterans from all eras and all types of trauma, not just recent combat,” Andrews said. “We can help military sexual trauma survivors, older vets, gold star family members, all types of individuals who suffer trauma for various reasons and have never fully been able to heal.”

The Warrior Wellness program is a member of the OK Corral Series Equine Assisted Therapy program. While the center’s staff are not therapists themselves, they are certified to assist with equine therapy. They also can schedule appointments and coordinate treatment with a participant’s therapist or physician.

“My message to any trauma survivor, to any warrior needing to heal is ‘Come out and see what we do,’” Andrews said.

For more information on the Warrior Wellness program, call the Equestrian Center at 333-4607.

To learn more about the Academy’s Remount Foundation, call 766-8567.