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The Healing Power Of Horses

Published: September 13, 2019 1:32 pm ET

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On Saturday, a group of military veterans will ride on horseback through Manhattan to raise awareness about the high rate of suicide among former servicemen and servicewomen. The third annual “Trail to Zero” ride will cover 20 miles, which represents the number of veterans lost to suicide on average each day.

When harness racing trainer Robbie Siegelman heard that number, he was stunned. When he heard about the Trail to Zero event, created in 2017 by the Illinois-based nonprofit therapeutic equine organization BraveHearts, he wanted to provide support.

For the past seven years, Siegelman has volunteered with HorseAbility, a centre for equine-facilitated programs located near his home on Long Island. There, Siegelman has worked with veterans through the group’s HorseAbility for Heroes program, which was one of the reasons he was drawn to the Trail to Zero ride.

Siegelman and a group of volunteers from HorseAbility will assist BraveHearts with its ride through New York City. In addition, Paul Martinez, an Army veteran who is the facilities manager at HorseAbility, will participate as a rider.


Robbie Siegelman (Left) and Paul Martinez (Right)

Martinez, who also is the director of HorseAbility’s veterans’ program, served from 2006-2014. He was an Airborne Ranger Sniper, deployed six times to Afghanistan with the 3rd Ranger Battalion.

“We’re just trying to do our little part and also get the word out there,” Siegelman said about participating in the Trail to Zero. “There is a huge need for it.”

There are four Trail to Zero rides this year. The first was held last week in Washington, D.C. Following the New York event, there will be rides in Chicago (Sept. 28) and Houston (Nov. 2).

In addition to raising awareness about veteran suicide, the mission of the Trail to Zero is to educate veterans and their families about the healing benefits of equine-assisted services.

BraveHearts has the largest equine-based program for veterans in the nation and offers services free to veterans. The program seeks to provide emotional, cognitive, social, and physical benefits through riding, ground activities, carriage driving, and gentling wild mustangs.

“What the horses have done for these veterans is amazing,” Siegelman said. “Horses have turned around their lives and now they’re trying to help other people out there who need it.

“It really does work. Most people in the horse business know that animals are the best medicine for anything. That’s why I come to HorseAbility and work.”

Veterans in the Trail to Zero group have said they will continue to ride each year until the average of 20 suicides a day becomes zero. Siegelman has spent much of the week with the participants at events leading up to Saturday’s ride.

“I’m doing this for the same reason that I’ve always done it. It’s what I know,” Siegelman said. “I know about horses and I like to help people. I enjoy it and it’s rewarding. For me, it’s a no-brainer.”

(USTA)


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