Iraq war veteran Alan Babin was severely injured during a rescue mission while serving in Iraq. He came back home to face not only more than 70 surgeries, including four brain surgeries, but also to trying to rebuild a life in a world where he was no longer the same person.
Babin is now confined to a wheelchair, and when seeking ways to help him, Babin’s mother, Rose, discovered the Joyful Horse Project, a nonprofit that brings together wounded warriors and rescue horses to help the healing process — for both horses and injured veterans.
Rose Babin witnessed this mutual healing as she watched her son being wheeled up a ramp to meet some of the horses for the first time. One newly rescued horse, extremely skittish, wounded and afraid of humans, approached Alan.
After sniffing around his wheelchair for a few minutes, the horse pushed his nuzzle against the young man. “I could actually see the transformation taking place in both of them, my son and the horse,” Rose told a group of supporters on brisk evening in October at a fundraiser event held at Travaasa Austin Resort. Nearly 100 guests attended the event, some coming from as far away as New Hampshire, California and Nevada.
The event featured a concert by Mike Beck, an acoustic solo artist and international horse whisperer. Beck performed songs from his newest album, Tribute, with all proceeds benefiting the Joyful Horse Project.
“Horses are quite sensitive and operate through feel, instinctively understanding our intentions,” Beck says. “They have been our partners and served us for centuries – fighting our wars, plowing our fields, and carrying our kids to victory in the show ring. Now more than ever, horses can put us in touch with our own humanity and open the eyes and hearts of people who wish to partner with them.”
The organization is relatively new, founded just over a year ago by Beth Rand to provide holistic rehabilitation and adoption services for horses that have suffered the traumatizing effects of abuse, neglect or abandonment – many of which might be bound for slaughter. At Balance Point Equestrian Learning Center, run by Rachel Steen, these horses find a safe haven. While they wait for a new adoptive home, they need a job to do — a reason to partner with people again.
That’s where the veterans program comes in.
Rand partnered with Scott White, owner of an equine center who is involved with Veterans Equine Therapy Services (VETS), a unique horsemanship program in which military veterans, primarily combat soldiers, go through six-week programs to develop working partnerships with the horses to build respect, confidence and relationship in both horse and human.
“We want to help people begin to see horses in a different light,” Rand says. “It can take years to rehabilitate a wounded horse and even longer for a walled-off human. These vets are working with horses that are coming back from their own war zones. It’s a process that can’t be rushed, for either a horse or a person.”
Steen says that being involved with the VETS program taught her trust, respect, communication and joy. “By helping those horses, I was helping myself,” she says. “When you touch them and open your heart, a whole world opens up that you never knew.”
LEARN MORE about the Joyful Horse Project and its programs for veterans.