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2020 Top-Rated Nonprofit

BRAVEHEARTS THERAPEUTIC RIDING AND EDUCATIONAL CENTER

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Nonprofit Overview

Mission: BraveHearts brings hope, joy and unlimited possibilities through the healing power of the horse.

Target demographics: bring hope, joy and unlimited possibilities through the healing power of the horse to individuals in need

Direct beneficiaries per year: 1084 individuals and 20,860 sessions

Geographic areas served: Harvard and Poplar Grove Illinois

Programs: equine assisted activities and therapies such as therapeutic riding, foundation horsemanship, Operation Mustang (mustang gentling), Trail to Zero (20-mile ride to raise awareness for veteran suicide), physical, occupational and speech therapy using hippotherapy as a treatment strategy and equine assisted psychotherapy.

Community Stories

56 Stories from Volunteers, Donors & Supporters

Pam K.2

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I have been volunteering for Bravehearts Therapeutic Riding and Educational Center for four years. Their expectations from their staff and volunteers goes above and beyond. They truly care for each veteran, participant and volunteer that enters their facility. I am so blessed to be able to spend time volunteering for this amazing program.

Previous Stories

Volunteer

Rating: 5

Braveheart is such a wonderful organization that touches the lives of so many veterans and their families. Over the past two years I have had the honor of seeing firsthand as a volunteer the impact it has on veterans as they re-establish their lives both physically and mentally. The peace and joy they bring through the equestrian program is amazing.

Brenna D.

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I have volunteered at BraveHearts for three years now, and I can't say enough good things about this organization. The staff are so knowledgeable and friendly, and the volunteers are like a family. Each horse is exceptional. I'd argue that BraveHearts has the best herd of therapy horses in the world. Every aspect of BraveHearts is organized, clean, and professional, meaning clients get the very best service. The BraveHearts staff and volunteers care deeply about the organization and its goals.

Heather K.7

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I am a current volunteer for Bravehearts. I enjoy volunteering at this organization. The staff and other volunteers are very passionate in helping And supporting individuals with disabilities, and veterans by utilizing the benefits of a horse. I look forward to going to Bravehearts because of the amazing, encouraging and uplifting staff and other volunteers I have had the opportunity to work with. I feel very fortunate to have been a part of such a wonderful organization that has helped to improve and impact the lives of so many participants.

Volunteer

Rating: 5

There is a certain feeling you get when you come to BraveHearts. It's the feeling of acceptance and understanding, compassion and hope, encouragement and support. It's the feeling of quiet happiness, experiencing people healing their hearts, their minds and their bodies with the help of beautiful, intuitive horses, who somehow know exactly what each person needs most.

When I started volunteering with BraveHearts, my intent was to help other people. I had no idea how volunteering would enrich my own life. I am so grateful to be part of the BraveHearts family. It is truly like none other!

Ardie Willoughby
Volunteer since 2008 - Leader, Mentor, Exercise Rider

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I have been a volunteer with Bravehearts for over 5 years. I started off as a sidewalker and since have become a registered leader 2. I discovered Bravehearts when looking for a way to fulfill my mandatory community service hours, but I soon realized it was much more than that. I formed bonds with the horses and participants. The staff and my fellow volunteers became like family to me. I am currently a nursing student at St Anthony College of nursing and I have a huge passion for helping others especially kids. I hope to become a pediatric nurse when I graduate and working at Bravehearts with children with special needs has given me insight into what caring for someone really means. It isn’t just about the treatments, it’s about connecting with the patients on an individual level and helping to heal them spiritually too. Watching the horses connect to kids and people of all ages is an amazing thing to witness . At the start of the lesson some of the participants may have extreme anxiety or have a lot of tension built up due to being in pain or other circumstances. The horses help to take that away from them and move their minds to a different place when they connect as one. Bravehearts is a very special place to me and has taught me the meaning of animals, especially horses in our lives. They bring the community together and positively impact the lives of many.

pambellon

Volunteer

Rating: 5

Volunteering for BraveHearts has given me the opportunity to meet and help many veterans. Learning about how the organization and the horses have saved lives is encouragement to continue volunteering and providing the best equine assisted therapy out there.

Previous Stories

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I started with BraveHearts about five years ago. It’s been a rejuvenating time for me. The assistance I’ve been able to provide for veterans and people who have life changing disabilities has given me a whole new way of looking at myself. The looks and smiles on the clients faces are what makes volunteering here a must!!

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Client Served

Rating: 5

I am so grateful my VA Doc referred me to Bravehearts in 2019. I was facing some challenges and found a safe haven with the horses. I had many horses throughout my life, winning belt buckle competitions, numerous ribbons, trophies, etc. But—- at this point in my life - I needed healing. Bravehearts is helping me heal.

Client Served

Rating: 5

Very patient. Gentle horses. Great environment! Staff always smiling and cheerful!

Melanie D.2

Volunteer

Rating: 5

If I could vote 10 stars, I would. BraveHearts is a place where nothing else in the world matters. I ride and volunteer at BH. This organization is going places. They have the horse care down to a T. They are kind and considerate. I have so many friends here, but I don’t think of them as friends, I think of them as family. We are the BraveHearts family.

Previous Stories

Volunteer

Rating: 5

It is hard to find the words to describe BraveHearts. When I walked in the door a year ago, I had no idea about Hippotherapy or Therapeutic Riding let alone horses. I was able to extend my talents and become pretty well known by the teachers, clients, and other volunteers. Any free time I have I spend at BraveHearts. There are times when I just want to come and be with the horses. They give me a sense of peace without even saying a word. These aren't just horses, these are God's angels. Who could forget about the participants. When you walk through the door nothing else matters because for that hour, you are with them. You are helping them through their disabilities, and to me that's pretty cool.

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Volunteer

Rating: 5

I have been volunteering with this organization for over 4 years!! I have observed many amazing transformations - children with autism speaking their first words, suicidal veterans with heavy addictions who have obtained sobriety and are reunited with their families, etc - all through the God-given healing qualities of the horse!
This organization functions through a heavy volunteer presence and volunteers walk away with a huge sense of satisfaction and enjoyment through working with the horses and watching the miracles happen!!

Previous Stories

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I had heard about Brave Hearts and had thought about checking it out but when we ran into a veteran at an event at the BMO Harris Bank Center we (my husband is a Vietnam Nam vet) decided to attend a special BH event. We got to experience, first hand, some of the awesome services offered by BH including going into a round pen with a mustang! We immediately signed up to volunteer and later participate in some of the services offered to veterans and their families!! And now, over a year & a half later, we are regularly involved at BH!! You see, horses have ALWAYS been a passion for me and now my husband shares my passion and the healing power of the horse!! The rewards have been many!! We love Brave Hearts!!

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I started volunteering in 2014 after seeing a very heart warming news special about what BraveHearts does. I've found my home and my heart in volunteering. Seeing regular riders improve, having the honor of working with veterans, getting to witness miracles every day, and the joy of working with the most amazing horses in the world.

Previous Stories

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I've been a volunteer at BraveHearts since 2014 and it's always an amazing experience. From seeing the progress and connection with the horses the riders make in hippotherapy and therapeutic riding, the commerodity with veterans and volunteers, to the world class training and staff, it is a pleasure and joy to be part of BraveHearts. Miracles happen every day!

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I started volunteering at BraveHearts in October of 2018. At the time, I was interested in finding a place to volunteer and, since I have always loved horses, thought BraveHearts would be a great fit. BraveHearts certainly has wonderful horses that are a joy to be with and I have absolutely loved working with them over the past year! Having the opportunity to witness the incredible impact that working with the horses can have on people has been an amazing experience. And spending time with the staff, volunteers, and riders at BraveHearts is something that I always look forward to!

BraveHearts provides their volunteers with a number of valuable trainings and opportunities to learn important skills and apply them to help people. I have learned a great deal since starting to volunteer and learn something new every time I come out to BraveHearts!

As part of their veteran program, BraveHearts started Trail to Zero in 2017. These 20 mile rides raise awareness of the 20 veterans we lose every day to suicide. This year, Trail to Zero took place in Washington D.C., New York City, and Chicago. I had the opportunity to help support the Chicago ride and was a part of the manure clean-up crew! It was a privilege to be able to walk with the ride and an unforgettable experience to watch them ride through downtown Chicago.

I am so thankful to have found this amazing organization and that I am able to volunteer at BraveHearts!

1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

What’s not to love about BraveHearts? They have a highly experienced staff which is supported by dedicated therapists and caring volunteers. That winning combination of people results in the best possible experience for the participants!

1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

Bravehearts is not your average nonprofit. It’s a family working together to help each and every person who walks through their doors find a little more joy in their day and hope in their hearts. Bravehearts not only provides a safe and educational place to learn and grow but fosters an environment that allows everyone to find their own journey to healing and hope. Whether a participant or a volunteer, Bravehearts goes above and beyond to make everyone’s visit to the farm a positive experience.

Karen S.10

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I have been a volunteer at BraveHearts since 2012, as a horse leader, mentor for new volunteers and exercise rider. The biggest reason I chose BraveHearts is because of the high standards that are kept. Volunteers, instructors and therapists are offered many trainings throughout the year, which keep everyone up to date and performing as a true team. Safety is always a priority. I love walking into the barn and immersing myself in this interesting world, which has taught me to be confident in my abilities, and to think on the run. I have learned so much here, and I enjoy the trainings so much, which have helped me to become a better rider, a better session leader, and better able to serve our clients.

Previous Stories

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I have been a volunteer at BraveHearts since 2012. I had prior experience volunteering in hippotherapy, and the reason I chose BraveHearts is because of the professional manner in which it is run. Working with large animals, disabled children and adults is a tricky combination. Both staff and volunteers are well-trained, with continuous training sessions offered monthly. This results in everyone being incredibly skilled, confident and safe. The horses have the best care, mentally and physically, and are incredible animals. The environment in the barn is that of comradery and compassion. BraveHearts is a great organization, doing great work. I am proud to be a part of it.

1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

Bravehearts is an amazing nonprofit organization, BraveHearts Therapeutic Riding and Educational Center has helped many students and has helped me as a Volunteer to learn new things from each horse and each instructor and each person that is there. Bravehearts Therapeutic Riding and Educational Center is a big happy family and I’m so blessed to be able to volunteer and be there with many people and great horses! ❤️ The horses are very sweet and you can create a bond with each and every one of the horses.

1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

Volunteering at Bravehearts has helped me more than I could have imagined. Volunteering is full circle here. You get to help others but it helps you the most. The horses, patients, vets, staff, events...it's a wonderful, positive, and amazing experience. It's a huge part of my life and one of the greatest things I'm honoured to be a part of. I love it here!

Client Served

Rating: 5

Can't say enough good about Bravehearts and there are not enough words to describe the compassion and how Bravehearts have given their time and things they have done for my son to learn more things helpful usefful with his therapeutic riding. Bravehearts goes above beyond to give back to all our veterans in our nation. May the Lord continue to bless Bravehearts and their entire staff above and beyond measure!

Lori Worsham M.

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I have been a volunteer at Bravehearts since 2016 and have loved every minute I am in the Barn or Arena. As a volunteer who has set sessions I have watched over the past four years certain clients grow and make great strides in their Therapy sessions. There are many events that Bravehearts holds during the year but the most inspirational event of all is the Equine Special Olympics. It is a wonderful two day event that you will leave with a smile as you have watched these participants do their best and compete in the Arena. There are Veterans who come to Bravehearts from all over the country to start their Equine Therapy at no charge to them or their families. There are many success stories but one of the more serious issues that Bravehearts is trying to bring awareness to is that 20 Veterans commit suicide every day. The Trail To Zero is held in Washington D.C., New York City and this year they will add Sweet Home Chicago as the last ride. In September over the course of three weeks 20 Braveheart Veterans travel and will ride through these cities. It is a horrible epidemic that needs to be eradicated. If Bravehearts can help save one Veteran at a time they have made this mission a success. I am proud to be a part of this awesome organization and all they do,

Volunteer

Rating: 5

BraveHearts is a great way to serve our veteran community as well as the hippo therapy community. As a volunteer I’ve been there for roughly 3-4 years and I’ve enjoyed my time there immensely. The people are fun to work with, the horses are amazing and it’s just so great to see all that we can accomplish when we pull together. To be able to participate and help out with the Special Olympics is just a feather in our cap. To get to watch the athletes perform it is just so rewarding as you see them grow.

Previous Stories
1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I first went to BraveHearts as part of a Veterans group. I went for a one day trip, and then two weekend sessions, over the next two years. I remember standing near the burros paddock, watching the sun go down, and knowing I needed to be out there, to Harvard, more. I decided I was going to take a leap of faith and volunteer. I have some big trust issues, and this would be big for me to do, as I never really did things like this, without another person there. I have enjoyed all my time there as a volunteer. I wasn't able to ride, due to some physical limitations, but I wanted and NEEDED to be around the horses. I had spent the first year in the office and the second year, I missed due to a broken femur and some other medical issues. Meggan and Jen spoke with me, and help me find a place where I could help out in the barn, without the ability to do the heavy stuff. I was thrilled to be able to help out in the early morning hours, feeding and cleaning, AND get an hour of TR as a veteran, all on one day. (I live about 50 miles away, one way.) I was learning about horses, helping out around the barn, learning from my instructor... I took additional training so I could help out, bringing horses in and out to their pastures or paddocks.
Emotionally, I have really connected to the Mustangs. Like me they "read" body language and can tell how I'm feeling, maybe more so than I know. To work with them, is to love them. I currently love Oatie, a Mustang who has been the head of his class over the past year. I can just lean on him and feel his heartbeat and breath in his scent. I totally relax with him. He has my back and I have his. Mustangs have some MAJOR trust issues. He learned to trust us, and to me its an honor that he trusts me, as I trust him.
I have also been able to help out with the various Shows at BraveHearts in Poplar Grove, at the Bergmann Center. As a non-rider, I get to help out with registration and greeting people at the front. We just had the Special Olympics and it went great. All the shows have gotten to be very organized. It is so fulfilling to be able to help in this capacity, to greet the athletes and watch them do there very best.
I love being out at BraveHearts, in my behind the scenes way. I know that caring for the herd, allows the horses to be at their best, when they work during the day. I like to say that the "behind the scenes" stuff we do allows the horses to help make the magic happen.

Volunteer

Rating: 5

Bravehearts offers unique horseback riding opportunities for special needs individuals as well as veterans. The benefits of riding are miraculous. I have seen first hand miracles,parents had only prayed for, come to fruition. Riding on horseback improves spinal cord and brain function like nothing I have ever witnessed before. I am so blessed to be a part of such a wonderful organization.

BillBrokaw

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I have been volunteering at BraveHearts for more than 8 years. The equine therapy service provided is outstanding and results in amazing, sometimes miraculous, outcomes for clients.

As a volunteer, I get way more than I give. I benefit on a spiritual, emotional and physical level. Also, my love and knowledge of horses continues to grow.

You really have to visit and see it in person to truly understand equine therapy. So come out and visit BraveHearts....like me, you might never leave!!

Bill Brokaw

Previous Stories

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I had never even heard of equine therapy and had no experience with horses or therapy when I first visited BraveHearts to inquire about horseback riding lessons.

Now, seven years later, I am so grateful that I decided to volunteer there. I continue to see, first hand, the miracles of the healing power of horses!
It has been life changing for me.

To see a child, an adult or one of our great military veterans recover through equine therapy is something you just have to see first hand. So please come out and visit, get involved and make a difference!

Client Served

Rating: 5

Bravehearts helps my daughter with special needs and serves me as a veteran. They are a class "A" organization. I am so glad our family found them. It is so great to hear how they have helped combat veterans after their service to our great nation!

Justin M.3

Client Served

Rating: 5

I love coming to Bravehearts. I am part of the North Chicago VA SDTU and look forward to coming whenever I get the chance to with Suzanne Brown. The staff is always friendly and help us in anyway possible

Client Served

Rating: 5

My 20 year old son has been riding since he was 2 years old. We have worked with 3 different centers throughout his life. We have been blessed to call BraveHearts home for the past 10+ years. This is something that he looks forward to every week. Having a severe and profound developmental disability does not allow him to participate in many regular activities, but we firmly believe that the magic of the horse has helped him in so many ways, both cognitively and physically. We were fortunate to come on board with BraveHearts when they were first starting up, so we have had the opportunity to see how they have grown and served so many individuals with wonderful attention to their special needs and disabilities. They truly have their hearts in the right place. Everyone works together as a team and they really take pride in all that they do. The horses are well cared for and treated with great respect. Sure, we could choose to attend programs that are closer to our home, but we enjoy the drive up to the farm each week and appreciate how well they run their organization. They truly carry out their vision, "Bringing hope, joy and unlimited possibilities through the healing power of the horse."

1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I started with BraveHearts about 3 years ago,being a Veteran i was there just to ride and after a few months i started to Volunteer .It has given me such a pleasure to work with the Veterans and to see difference it makes to them.I am very grateful to BraveHearts to let me help out with my fellow Vet's and to be involved with the program.

Client Served

Rating: 5

I started going to Bravehearts when my adopted daughters counselor recommended it for her. As a veteran I can ride free and take her with me. It has been a year or so and I am hooked. I enjoy working with the horses, I ride, sidewalk, and lead. It is good therapy for my PTSD and also a time to be with my daughter doing something fun for both of us.

Client Served

Rating: 5

Bravehearts is the one thing that my daughter looks forward to each week. It makes her smile and she talks about it with everybody. Her instructor and the volunteers that walk with her are awesome!

1 Elizabeth Geiger C.

Client Served

Rating: 5

My son has Down Syndrome and has been riding at Bravehearts for several years. He has become a talented rider participating in Special Olympics. Thanks to all of these special people, the volunteers, trainers and coaches, we have been blessed to have this organization in Illinois. Thank you Bravehearts.
God bless all of you!! We love you!!

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I have been volunteering at BraveHearts for almost a year now and ridding as a veteran for almost as long. My husband is also a veteran and our kids even get to ride with us. We now all ride together once a week and it is a amazing experience. The instructors are absolutely incredible ! I know for me every time I walk into either barn I feel like I am with family. I am not a church going person but this is my church, and it feels like home for me.

Client Served

Rating: 5

My son, Eric, is a client at Bravehearts Therapeutic Riding. He is disabled and absolutely loves riding! He looks forward to riding as the best activity he has all week. Eric has been riding a horse for nearly 20 years; at Bravehearts for the last several years. It is a wonderful organization with countless devoted and amazing volunteers. Everyone makes my son feel like he is the only person around.

Client Served

Rating: 5

This is a great organization! I am a veteran who just started lessons with a family member and we both love it!

Client Served

Rating: 5

My husband, a veteran, and son, disabled, have been going to Bravehearts for a little over a year. Already they are part of a true family of staff, volunteers and participants. There is a wide variety of programs and so many family activities. We are blessed to be a part.

3 Jamie M.4

Volunteer

Rating: 5

My BraveHearts story is unique in that I wear three hats there: mom, volunteer, Veteran rider.
As a young girl I spent time with and showed horses, hunter/jumper. Many years later when I became the mom to a daughter with Down syndrome I learned about hippotherapy and definitely wanted my daughter to receive the benefits riding horses would provide her. We found BraveHearts through a web search and at six years old she began therapeutic riding lessons that she continued until we moved to another town six years later. Grace rode at BraveHearts in Harvard until they obtained the Bergmann Centre in Poplar Grove, which was closer to our home in Belvidere. During this time I became unemployed and spent as much time as possible volunteering at BraveHearts – sidewalking, leading, grooming, mucking stalls, and anything that needed to be done. Staff at BravehHearts had mentioned to me the Veterans program, wondering if I’d be interested in riding as an Air Force Vet. I always declined, saying I was too busy. A new job brought us to live in another town for three years and we missed BraveHearts immensely. An unexpected turn of events forced us to move back to Belvidere and I wasted no time in getting in contact with staff to explore riding options for Grace and volunteer options for me. Again, the Veterans program was mentioned to me and this time I decided to go for it. I was told I could ride twice a week, once with family, free of charge. What a deal!! For all the years my daughter was riding, I would be on the sidelines wishing I could assist the instructor in teaching Grace because who knew her better than me as well as the fact that I knew horses, but did not want to interfere. Now, it’s the best of both worlds – she is now 15 years old and we ride together! She learns from watching me and the competitive side of her wants to show me up, causing her to continually strive to do better. I just love being in the arena with her. And I also love riding another time during each week without her. The personal growth I have achieved through my most recent experiences with BraveHearts was completely unexpected. Yes, I knew I needed to brush up on my riding skills all these years later when my body is not what it used to be; I had no idea how that process would unfold to teach me about myself, my life, and my perspective on most everything. There is one horse in particular who has captured my heart. After about eight weeks of hell with him, we are best friends and every ride is fulfilling. He has a reputation for being difficult and he is just not that horse with me. A special bond has been created and it makes my heart smile. My daughter is going to participate in Equine Special Olympics this weekend at BraveHearts. I am now striving to become PATH Certified so I can give back, teaching horseback riding to other Veterans and those with special needs. BraveHearts has brought so much into my life for which I’ll eternally be grateful.

General Member of the Public

Rating: 5

BH provides exceptional therapy to military veterans with all disabilities.

Client Served

Rating: 5

BraveHearts has saved my life! I was sent to BraveHearts from a VA inpatient mental health program. I couldn't work, couldn't sleep, couldn't take care of myself, I couldn't even talk or be around my own family. I was suicidal, completely numb to the whole world. I knew nothing about horses when I arrived at BraveHearts. I would never believed horses would change my life. Through the horses and the great people at BraveHearts I not only was saved but I enjoy life again. I am closer to my family than I have been it years. I not only can talk to people again but have become a PATH Instructor and teach Horsemanship at BraveHearts. I truly love this program. I recently was hired as the Barn Manager at BraveHearts its like a dream come true. I do not think of my job as work its therapy and my life improves daily. The best thing about it is seeing all the staff, volunteers, and the people we serve grown and heal in their own way. BraveHearts helps everyone that walks through the door. The horses save or improve lives every day. It is an amazing organization! There is always more to do more people to save and we need everyone's help to make that happen. If you ever thought of give to an organization BraveHearts will get you the most return for you donation. Your donation will save lives!

Ron Hathaway
MSgt USAF retired

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I think that BraveHearts is a well organized nonprofit riding and educational center. Everyone there are very friendly, volunteers and paid employees. I think what they do is extraordinary and it shows through the participants, volunteers, and employees. To me it is very therapeutic just volunteering and being able to help whenever I can.

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I have been a volunteer with the Bravehearts organization for three years. It is a very rewarding experience to work with all of the clients and horses on a weekly basis. It is great to see the progress of the clients in the Hippotherapy classes from week to week. I feel like I get so much more out of my volunteer work than I contribute and have met so many wonderful people along the way. Bravehearts is a great place to volunteer and give something back to the community. The Veterans Program is a phenomenal program for the brave Men & Women and their families who have served our great country. It is my honor to be a volunteer with such a wonderful organization and to be able to help so many people.

1 Jennifer M.1

Client Served

Rating: 5

Bravehearts has changed my life. I spent more than a decade trying to find anything to bring just a little relief from the daily struggles with PTSD. This program has given me more than I could ever have hoped for, and I will be forever grateful. The horses and people at Bravehearts have become my family and I can't imagine where I'd be if I never found them.

Volunteer

Rating: 5

Volunteering at BraveHearts has been such a blessing for me. I have been able to experience how the both the veterans and the mustangs help each other heal and regain their confidence. Although we often receive a ‘thank you’ from the participants, it is I who must thank them. They allow me to give back and to share a love and passion that I have. There is nothing better than watching them smile, laugh and as one participant said “get out of my head for at least an hour or two”. The staff and other volunteers – along with the therapists from the VA centers – really do work miracles. The continued training we receive as volunteers helps to better serve our clients in both the therapeutic riding and Hippotherapy programs. I am proud to be part of the BraveHearts team!

Board Member

Rating: 5

As a volunteer and board member, I could not be more proud of my association with BraveHearts. The organization exists because of a great need to serve our veterans as well as others who greatly benefit from the healing our horses provide.
The staff and volunteers are the most dedicated group and along with our horses, our greatest asset. Their many hours of service make the organization what it is.

When you see the positive change in the participants physically, emotionally and socially, you are able to see and appreciate all the benefits BraveHearts offers first hand. I know our participants would tell you the same if asked.

It is a rewarding experience all around to be part of something so powerful. We plan to grow and continuously improve in all areas of BraveHearts with the continued support of our most generous donors and supporters.

Kathy Allegretti
BraveHearts Board

Volunteer

Rating: 5

Thursdays are the best day of the week! Why? Because it is BraveHearts Day on my calendar. I am a volunteer with BraveHearts, going into my 6th year. I am an exercise rider, horse leader and mentor for other volunteers. I came to BraveHearts with prior experience in hippotherapy. The reason I chose BraveHearts is because of the professionalism of the program. Safety is always first, each session is always about how to have the best session the participant. Our therapists and instructors continually amaze me with their creativity. BraveHearts puts a large emphasis on training for volunteers, as well as staff. Training equals consistency, consistency equals great sessions. Everyone at BraveHearts is dedicated, caring and professional. It is truly rewarding to me to watch the progress of our participants as they blossom from their interaction with our therapy horses. I believe we have the best therapy horses who are well-cared for, happy, and truly enjoy their role in sessions. With all of the training provided to horse leaders and sidewalkers, BraveHearts provides positive, well-run and productive sessions, with happy horses, dedicated therapists and instructors, and well trained, qualified volunteers, who work together as a well-oiled team.

2

Client Served

Rating: 5

Before I let, you know what BraveHearts has meant to me. I would like to tell you a little about myself and my conditions I had when I arrived at BraveHearts. I am 53 years old, I served 24 years active duty with the United States Air Force. I was deployed numerous times for both training and deployments five of which were combat deployments. I retired at in 2007 at the rank of Master Sergeant. I have been diagnosed with PTSD, manic depression, severe anxiety disorder, and migraines. To deal with these I take a number of medications and isolate myself. I took a job working for a call center troubleshooting phone, television, and internet issues in 2007. The position paid very well about $34 an hour with lots of benefits. Before long, I started calling into work sick because I could not handle working 40 hours a week. Calling in sick and my vacation time still was not enough so I started to isolate myself whenever I could. I moved a recliner out into my garage and would spent most of my time there alone. This worked for the about the first 4 years and by this time I was almost completely isolated even from my family, but things continued to get worse. At this point, I turned to elective surgery and allowed the wound site to get infected so I could take extended time off of work. I know that was not very smart but I was very desperate by this time. I continued to call in sick and worked the system to get as much time off as I could. I just could not handle working anymore. March of 2014 I signed myself in to an inpatient mental health program. I did not think it would help at all but it would get me another 60 days out of work and another month of reduced hours and duty after I returned to work. At this point, I was working very hard every day not to even see other people let alone talk to anyone. I was almost completely isolated, I could not work, I could not go out, I could not even be around or talk to my family. I was no longer caring for myself. I did not shower, shave, change my clothes, or even brush my teeth. If it were not for my retirement and disability pay, I would have lost my house. My Family knew they were better off just leaving me along. I was in impossible to deal with. Dawn (my wife) finally could not take it anymore and asked me to get some help. The VA strongly suggested that I go to the DOM and try to develop some skills to deal with all my issues. I only went to the DOM because Dawn suggested I go. I could not make any decisions for myself anymore. Someone would have to tell me what to do. I could no longer think straight or concentrate and I could barely talk to people. I was in consent pain from muscle tension and stress. Life pretty much sucked but I did not really want to change anything about it because I did not want to deal with anything. I was no longer part of anything and often wondered why I was still around and wished I had died in combat. I was about as low as you can go when I entered my inpatient program.
I was sent to BraveHearts as part of my inpatient program. When they brought the horses out this time I was astonishing, I could really see their beauty and could not wait to ride. This time while ridding I could hear Paddy and wanted to follow his lead and do all the things he was asking of me just right to show him I cared. Holy crap I cared, I did not even know I could do that anymore but I really did care. I felt really good and I wanted to feel that way more often. This time I felt part of the horse but also part of the group. . That was the first time I could remember feeling like a person again it would forever change me.
I now started to spread the word of this great place called BraveHearts where the horses are so beautiful and everyone has a heart of gold. I wanted everyone to be a part of what I was doing and how I felt now. It was just too good to keep to myself. From that time on, I started to take part in my classes at the DOM really trying to learn how I could make my life better. I started talking to my wife and family and letting them talk to me. I started to feel my life could be more than a chair in the garage and a cigar. I started to feel like I did not need to isolate and be alone. That I may even be worth something and my life could have meaning. I could go on, on about the things Meggan, Paddy, the horses, and the BraveHearts staff have taught me, and how they have helped me. Like when they asked me to be an instructor and what Meggan did for Mary that nigh in the barn, words could never express what BreaveHearts means to me. However, I will tell you because of BreaveHearts I am now going to school full time and getting straight A’s. I have made the Dean’s list two semesters in a roll. I no longer have a chair out in the garage and I am again part of my family. I feel my family’s love and their kindness because I let them back in and I only let them back in because of BraveHearts. I now go places, do things again, and for the most part enjoy life. I still have many hurdles to overcome and may never get over some of them but now I am at least trying. With BraveHearts help, I am now a PATH Therapeutic Riding Instructor. BraveHearts has had the courage to see potential in me when I felt I had nothing to give. They have taught me to live in the moment and not dwell on my mistakes and shortcomings. When I fail, they are the first ones there to pick me back up and challenge me to try again. I have so much more to learn from BraveHearts through the people, horseback riding, and Operation Mustang and they are ready to help me achieve my wildest dreams. I am proud I can now give back to others in need and I hope I can help others recognize their endless potential. The BraveHearts experience has transformed me from a man who could have won hermit of the year, to a person that knows I have so much to give and that I can help others back into the real world through the power of therapeutic riding and Operation Mustang. I have gone from wishing I had died to a person that is looking for the next challenge no matter what it is. More than that, I want to help others face their fears and defeat those fears. For the first time in my life I BELIEVE I can do anything. BraveHearts has saved my life and I will be forever grateful.

Previous Stories

Client Served

Rating: 5

Operation Mustang is vital to me. Working with the mustangs engages every one of your senses and can bring a person like myself back to life. When I first started working with the mustangs I was at the end of my rope. I spent all my time completely cut off from everything. I didn’t talk to my family, I had no friends, lost my job, and spent most days wishing I was dead. Through the VA I was introduced to BraveHearts and Operation Mustang. The first time I walked into the round pen to work with one of these great animals I was nervous and my heart is pounding. I wonder what am I doing this is crazy, but then I started to move the mustang’s feet, getting him to turn and move the direct I want him too. I started building that trust with the Mustang. I started to see the changes in the mustang and could anticipate what they were going to do next all the while trying to show the mustang that it will be safer and easier to do thing my way.
One of the greatest things in this program is all the “first”, the first time in the pen, the first time a mustang moves for you, the first time you touch the mustang…the list goes on and on. Each one of these first changes me. It is a win, a success, a victory for me, someone who had really given up on everything and everyone. Each day I work with the mustangs I get another reason to live, to try and be part of society to be productive and feel human again. This feeling of hope is something I have been without for such a long time and I do not ever want to loss it again. Another great thing about this program is there is no end meaning that the next horse you work with is going to be different and will have to be handled a different way. Again a whole new set of “firsts”, whole new challenges, and a whole new reason to have hope.
It is hard to explain what it means to work with this great people and animals. I would strongly encourage you to come and see the program first hand. To come out and feel the “firsts” that I am talking about. Even if you think you have your live all together and it could not get any better I would bet you would feel and see a change in yourself. This program and these mustangs change a person, they challenge a person and they make a person whole again. Like I said it is hard to explain what this program means without experiencing it yourself. The program has touched and helped so many vets like myself and should be expanded to every state in the country. The health benefits to the vets will be unmeasurably high. These horses can and will heal so many vets that are broken and feel they have nothing left that they are at the end of their rope and all that is left it to let the rope go. This program has saved my life and can save the lives of so many others. This is an opportunity for the VA to have a huge success, a win, a victory. Everyone will come out better if this program is allowed to grow the VA, the centers that have the program, the mustangs themselves and of course us the Vets will be the biggest winner.
I can tell you that I have gone from wanting to be dead to a, volunteer and instructor for this program. I have gone from setting alone in the dark to talking to my family and being part of their lives. I have gone from a scared used up person to a one with hope and one that wants new challenges a new chance to be the man I used to be and so much more. I am now a full time student with a 4.0 GPA for the last 3 semesters working on an associate’s degree in Medical Administrations at Bryant & Stratton University. This program has given me back my wife, children and granddaughter. It has given me a reason to get up each morning and take on the day. I have gained a new life from this program working with the mustangs and my only hope is this program can grow to reach out to all vets in need. The vets desire the chance to be a part of society again to give again to be human again and most of to have hope again and that is what working with these mustangs can give them.

Ronald S Hathaway MSgt USAF (retire)

Client Served

Rating: 5

My name is Mary B and I am a veteran of the United States Army and know personally how a horse can save and change lives of people in particular the military. In order for these miracles of healing and absolute life to occur there has to be a place that provides the horses, people, kindness, support, love, patience and understanding and I know by experience that BraveHearts is that place. I have been at other therapeutic riding centers in several states and BraveHearts exceeds the other facilities because of their true dedication, determination, professional in very broad terms seeing the big picture but more importantly to me they make the individual feel validated wherever they may be on their journey. It is difficult for some veterans (me as one) to trust or believe in something or someone again and BraveHearts provides this vital piece to a recovery. I have seen how BraveHearts reaches out to other centers throughout the world for collaboration, to teach and to learn from others. BraveHearts is well respected in their professional world and I feel fortunate to be a part of that world.

1

General Member of the Public

Rating: 5

I just want to take a minute to let you know how important Operation Mustang has been for my husband Ron, myself and our entire family. This time last year I was consumed with worry that Ron was going to end his life. He would not talk or interact with anyone in the family. He had lost his job because the stress, anxiety, anger, and depression of daily living were just too much for him. He could no longer interact with people and had cut himself completely off from society. He is such a kind and loving person with so much to give but he no longer saw that and he had lost all hope. Ron was introduced to BraveHearts through the Milwaukee VA hospital and than BraveHearts started him in Operation Mustang. From the first time he worked with the Mustangs I could see a change in him. He called me on the phone (which would have never happened before) and told me all about the bond he had made with this Mustang he worked in the round pen. He said when he first entered the pen both him and the mustang were scared for their life not know what was going to happen and how they both just wanted to be safe. He said as he worked with the mustang and he started to get it to move around the pen with him he could feel the bond. He could sense the Mustang wanting to trust him and how he wanted to trust the Mustang. He told me it was like a first dance were they couple does not know each other and are nervous even stepping on each others toes, but slow they start to move together to relax to gain trust and start to feel and move as one. Their heartbeat and breathing were one breath on heartbeat as if they were supposed to be together. He told me he felt safe for the first time in years. And he told me he loved me. I had not heard that from him in a long time it made me cry. I had a small glimmer of hope that he may come back to me that he maybe the Ron I once knew. He continues to work with the Mustangs and each day he comes home he is so much better than the last. He talks to me, he holds me and loves me. He talks to our children and plays with his granddaughter Sami. It is more than just an action he wants to be there he wants to be part of our family again he cares for the first time in years. He is doing so much better he is even going to school full time and has been getting straight A’s for the last three semesters I am so proud of him.
I truly believe all of this has been made possible because of Operation Mustang, I am so grateful to have my husband back and to feel like a family again. I can not help but think of all the spouses and children around the country that could be helped from this great program. My husband has always meant the world to me and it is only because of Operation Mustang that he has truly come home. Thank you so much for all you have done for my family

Dawn Hathaway 4/28/2016