OLDHAM COUNTY, Ky. (WHAS11) – On an Oldham County farm, veterans are taking the reins of horses and their own lives. That’s where you’ll find a man on a mission named Jeremy Harrell.
"Me, myself, I'm not a certified clinician based on academics, but I feel like I'm certified in real life,” Harrell said.
He’s got plenty of experience in that department.
“I joined the Army in ’99. I went to Iraq during the initial invasion of 2003 and 2004. I served with a great unit and a lot of great relationships built with brothers and sisters. I came back to everyday life and realized that I wasn't handling life the way I did before. Something was off,” Harrell said.
Eventually diagnosed with a Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Harrell had to medically retire.
"I went through a deep depression from not being able to do what I should be doing at 29 years old,” Harrell said.
Traditional therapy followed, but nothing fit until about a year ago. Harrell’s wife suggested he try a horse retreat for veterans. His background there was limited to say the least.
"I went to the track and bet on horses like we all do, but I'd never even touched a horse up until that point,” Harrell said.
One weekend later, and he was hooked.
"It's like knowing a secret. You know you just can't wait to share it with people. So, that's kind of where I'm at. I just want to tell everybody,” Harrell said.
He's well on his way. Harrell launched Veteran's Club last November. The group hosts a handful of other events but also focuses on equine therapy. In less than a year's time, it's grown from a few dozen members to nearly 800.
"You've got 750 people who get you. You're not alone. We're all here. We love you. We're going to support you. We're going to encourage you. They need to feel that. They deserve it. They earned it,” Harrell said.
Two Saturdays a month, veterans come to the farm and spend the day with the horses. They do everything from wrangling to grooming to riding.
“We come out around 10:00 a.m. The veterans will go catch the horses out of the pasture. Usually, they kind of connect with the horse that kind of fits their personality intuitively. It’s kind of supernatural in a way. They’ll go out and grab the horse and bring them in. We’ll clean them up, they’ll bond with the horse while they’re cleaning the horses and cleaning their hooves. They’ll tack them up, put the saddle on, get them out in the arena, and spend some time with them on the ground. Then, we’ll get up and let them ride,” Harrell said. “The ride is the reward, right? What I’m trying to teach is in life, you don’t start out riding. You start building up to the point.”
The day is full of steps, much like the veterans' personal paths.
"Part of healing and part of therapy is you don't start out healed. You have to work and take the steps, but the end result is you feel better about yourself and your life,” Harrell said. "When you're leading a 1200-pound animal and telling it what to do, you're regaining that confidence and that leadership that maybe you had in the military but miss it because you've been out.”
Little by little though, the fog starts to fade.
"It's so powerful that it's emotional for them because they're like I forgot what it felt like to be calm, to be chill, and to be relaxed,” Harrell said.
It's a new purpose for Jeremy. It’s a passion he didn't pick, but one he knows he's meant to have.
"It's just all working out, and I think it's a God thing, to be honest. It's bigger than me. He just uses me to facilitate that. What an awesome opportunity to serve my fellow veterans,” Harrell said.
Harrell wants to get a Veteran's Club in every state. There's a public (Veteran’s Club) and a private (Veteran’s Club Kentucky) Facebook group. That closed one is for the veterans to have a safe space to talk to each other about whatever they want and need. The club is also looking for donations, especially lunches for those Saturday sessions.