Started in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2006, Horses4Heroes was created to thank the men and women whose daily sacrifices keep us safe and free. The non-profit 501 (c) (3) corporation reaches out to active duty military personnel, veterans and wounded warriors, first responders, critical care and hospice nurses, special education teachers, and their families offering affordable recreational, instructional and health & wellness equestrian programs and activities.
Expanding beyond Las Vegas, Horses4Heroes now has affiliate programs in cities and towns across the country. According to a Horses4Heroes press release; in order to grow the organization Sydney Knott, the organization’s president and executive, and mother of its founder, Allison Knott, contacted the Armed Forces Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit that also serves veterans, wounded warriors and their families. The goal was to make horseback riding part of the organization’s Classic Outdoor Sports programs. Working with Josh Stokes, the Armed Forces Foundation’s director of operations, it was determined that the best way to get the most military heroes and families riding horses was to offer them a free ride at a participating facility. At the time, the organization only had about 30 facilities, not nearly enough to cover the country.
Born was Operation Free Ride. Knott presented the concept of Operation Free Ride to Ward Stutz, senior director of breed integrity for the American Quarter Horse Assn. (AQHA) and incoming president of the Certified Horsemanship Assn. (CHA) who receptively forwarded the information within AQHA. In February the entire AQHA membership was invited to participate in Horses4Heroes’ Operation Free Ride, calling it an ” unprecedented collaboration between breed associations and equestrian organizations, united for one important mission: to give our active-duty military personnel, returning combat veterans, wounded warriors and their families the opportunity to ride a horse for free!”
Following suit, a number of national equestrian organizations including; the Pinto Horse Assn. of America, Certified Horsemanship Assn. (CHA), American Riding Instructors Assn. (ARIA), American Assn. of Riding Schools (AARS), and the American Horse Council and its Unwanted Horse Coalition contacted their membership base to support Operation Free Ride. Horses4Heroes now has 190 equestrian centers in 43 states and Canada.
To commemorate the 11th anniversary of 9/11 and honor those whose jobs place them in danger every day, Horses4Heroes is sponsoring Hero Appreciation Day open houses in Sacramento, CA; Lexington, VA; Paducah, KY; and Nashville, TN with special tributes being planned in Luling, TX and Las Vegas, NV. Hero Appreciation Day events are part of the organization’s Operation Free Ride, a national initiative to introduce the therapeutic and recreational benefits of horses and horseback riding to those who serve and have served.
“Time and time again, ride after ride, horses have proven their abilities to help heal the wounds of war and separation,” stated Knott, in a recent press release. “This program is giving the wonderful world of horses to these men, women and their children who have sacrificed on our behalf. With thousands of troops returning home, programs like Operation Free Ride are important to PTSD sufferers, Wounded Warriors, caregivers and their families,” added Knott.
Noting that September is Suicide Prevention Month, Knott said that her organization and its 190 participating facilities are opening their barn doors to service members and veterans who might be feeling lost, alone or desperate.
Concluded Knott, “A day with horses can be very therapeutic without the stigma or fear of therapy.”