JAY EM – Kelly Alexander tried multiple therapies to treat his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury following his multiple military deployments.
He was disappointed by programs offered by the Veterans Affairs program. He said he was struggling with retirement as a self-proclaimed “workaholic.”
Finally, in spring 2018, he was invited to participate in the Mustang Heritage Foundation Veterans and Mustangs Program in Texas.
“Nothing really seemed to stick,” Kelly said. “Going into the mustangs program, I was a little bit apprehensive, not knowing anything about horses.”
During the second week, Kelly said, the unique therapy started to work. He felt a connection with his mustang, Pioneer Endeavor, better known by his barn name, Endy.
Now, he and his wife, Karen Alexander, live on a ranch in Jay Em with Endy and two other mustangs they adopted, named Annie Oakley and Belle Star.
“I was open to anything and everything equine,” Kelly said. “I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do around Mustangs, but I knew I needed to do something. I know I’m not the only guy that’s been in combat, dealing with this after we came home. I’m not the only guy that’s been worried about no longer being able to wear the uniform.”
Kelly’s experience led the Alexanders to establish their own program on their ranch, Mirrored K Legacy Ranch, a six-week commitment slated to begin May 17. They call it a legacy ranch, Karen said, because it’s their legacy to help veterans like Kelly.
For their inaugural year, they’ll host just two participants and bring in mustangs provided by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). At the end of the program, participants have the opportunity to adopt their horses, just like Kelly did.
Karen said veterans can connect with mustangs because the animals have often experienced trauma themselves.
“[Mustangs] have been rounded up with helicopters and taken from their herd, put in a pen and then branded and given immunizations,” she said. “The veteran and the mustang are kind of meeting in this at the same place.”
The program is free, except for lodging, transportation and meals besides lunch. Karen said anyone who has served in the military and wants to try a unique therapy can apply, no matter where they live. They’ll just need to provide paperwork from the Department of Defense indicating they have a disability.
“They work on this relationship with trust,” Karen said. “The veteran also learns to be in the moment and let everything else go away, because you can’t be amped up whenever you work with the Mustang.”
Kelly said neither he nor his wife are licensed therapists, but he wants veterans, and anyone who seeks to improve their mental health, to know working with mustangs can work. Kelly is living proof.
“What I’m trying to do is duplicate what I experienced,” Kelly said. “Then it’s up to [the participant] to take it where they want to go.”
Applications open Jan. 1. For more information, visit Kelly’s and Karen’s website, mirroredklegacyranch.com or their Facebook page, Mirrored K Legacy Ranch.