Restoration Ranch in Bastrop, Texas is one of those beautiful places on this Earth where you can feel the love, care and connection every moment you’re there.
We’re greeted warmly by Beth Rand and her Irish Setter Twila. Beth is the President and Executive Director of Restoration Ranch and The Joyful Horse Project. We meet her husband and their son. We meet some of the veterans who are gathering today to work on the ranch. We meet other volunteers too and instantly, we feel like family.
Beth takes us past a beautiful medicine wheel garden inspired by Native American traditions. There are four quadrants, which embody the four directions (East, South, West, and North) and each has its own color: blue, white, yellow, red. Ribbons flow in the wind. We’re told that the ribbons represent dreams or prayers.
We walk past shade trees on a grassy path and end up at an overlook pavilion. We take in the rolling hills and start back toward the stables. As we go, Beth shares with us how the team got started.
“It started with the horses of course. Because you’ll remember back in 2008, we were in the middle of a horrible drought and a lot of horses, because the pasture lands were drying up, their owners were dumping them at auction….alot of them were being shipped to slaughter in Mexico. There was a herd of about 30 broodmares, with babies by their sides and pregnant that got dumped in a kill lot and so we rescued all the mares….and their babies and rehabilitated them. And most all of those horses have been placed.”
We ask Beth about how they work with the horses on the ranch. She explains, “First we rehab them physically. We do body work and we do homeopathic remedies and we get them on good feed. Nutritionally, we get them in a very good place. We’ve only been here a year but we try to get them in small herd environments, just a little community so they know they’re safe. The veterans showed up because they wanted to help us rehab the horses and so in that process, we developed a horsemanship program to teach the veterans what we do with the horses from initially physically getting their bodies right to behaviorally, which is the work that Michael does – getting them to want to work with people again.
The veterans help us after the horses are physically well and ready to hook up with people again. Then, they help us keep them healthy....We taught them the Masterson method of massage and so they do body work on the horses for us. We use essential oils as part of the calming signals to let them know it’s ok and they can let go of all of their tension while we work on their bodies because sometimes there’s sore spots that we need to release so if they’re very relaxed…they’re much more likely to let us in and let us help.”
We meet up with Michael Richardson, the Director and Veterans Program Facilitator at the ranch.
We read about Michael on the Restoration Ranch website before we went to the ranch:“Michael’s talents have led him to working with United States veterans and their families to offer a unique horsemanship program that builds equine partnerships based on mutual trust, respect and good communication. The teamwork benefits both the horses and the veteran families as they progressively master horsemanship skills that apply to every aspect of their life and relationships.
In addition to his horsemanship clinics, Michael makes regular appearances as a motivational speaker at large equestrian and corporate events....Michael was also featured in an RFD TV Series entitled The Gift of the Horse.”
Michael instantly draws us in. He’s a charismatic speaker and a warm, open human being. He talks about the transformation that the veterans and horses go through during their time at the ranch. He says his role is the facilitator of change. We feel changed for having met Michael.
Hetalks us through as Mitchell Reno (just call him Reno) works to establish trust with his equine partner. We learn how the program has helped Reno reconnect with himself and his family. We’re feeling more and more grateful to have met such beautiful people.
Gary O'Neal casually walks past us gently leading a tan and white horse. We’re told he served almost 40 years for our country from Vietnam through both Gulf Wars and that he founded the American Warrior Free Fighting System for combat, combining his military training with martial arts. Later, we read more about Gary. He’s a true legend whose harrowing and touching stories are captured in the book, American Warrior: The True Story of a Legendary Ranger.
Jazz the dog passes by. He’s a beautiful black-and-white, long-haired McNab Border Collie. We meet Vegas, a strong, tan horse with a beautiful brown mane. Two hours have passed since we arrived but it feels like just a few minutes. We’re impressed and humbled by the good being done here at Restoration Ranch and by the support each gives the other.
Beth had hinted at an organic garden and more holistic practices. We’ll have to learn more the next time we visit this amazing group of animals and people.
Visit the Veterans Program page on The Joyful Horse Project/Restoration Ranch website to learn more and get involved.