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Kentucky veterans use horses for mental healing

For Jeremy Harrell, Memorial Day used to be a struggle but two-and-a-half years ago he found something on a farm that would change his life and mental health.

LOUISVILLE (WHAS11) -- Memorial Day is a holiday full of traditions and for some it may include grilling out or heading to the pool. But for many veterans and their families the holiday weekend brings back certain memories, making the holiday tough to get through.

"We're also hit with the reality that we lost them, and I love them and I miss them, and this just reminds me again of them not being here,” Jeremy Harrell, Veterans Club Founder, said.

For Harrell, Memorial Day used to be a struggle but two-and-a-half years ago he found something on a farm in Kansas that would change his life, a four-legged savior.

"I had never even touched a horse before prior to two-and-a-half years ago now, but my wife had grown up around horses, and she understood the value,” Harrell said. “So happy wife, happy life.”

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It's called equine therapy and they use horses to promote physical and mental health and any doubts Jeremy had were quickly erased.

"Instantly I felt this level of peace and I felt this sort of transformation beginning,” Harrell said.

Harrell knew he was onto something. He founded Veterans Club and has helped more than 1,300 veterans since with many going through his equine therapy program, working closely with the horses.

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"It forces you to be authentic because it's not a poodle, so if you want to work with this horse, you can't just pick it up and carry it, right? You have to develop this trust,” Harrell said.

But the program doesn't just build relationships between the veterans and the horses, it's also about teaching the veterans to lean on their brothers and sisters in arms.

"Just to be able to remember moments where we laughed, we cried and just when we gave each other hard times,” Bill Pelc, a veteran, said.

For Pelc he encourages other veterans who may be struggling to get involved and to know they're not alone.

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"Even with loss, there's times of reflection with peace and joy,” Pelc said.

Peace and joy that is made a little easier this holiday weekend with a little help from their new friends.

Contact reporter Dennis Ting at dting@whas11.com. Follow him on Twitter (@DennisJTing) and Facebook.

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