Helping others: Retired veteran devotes his time giving back to those affected by PTSD
Operation Remount Corporation Founder Kelly Alexander and his wife and co-founder Karen call Jay Em home. The pair works with veterans and first responders throughout the U.S., pairing them with a mustang to promote healing, build trust and form a bonding relationship for both the horse and rider.
Kelly shares he always joked with the Army, saying, “You’re going to have to kick me out. And, they pretty much did – they medically retired me after 22 years of service.”
“I was one of those kids who knew what they wanted to be when they grew up, and I wanted to be a solider,” says Kelly. “After being medically retired I started to ask, what is my purpose? What is my next task and how do I identify myself?”
In 2014, Kelly was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He got a service dog and began discussing his retirement plan – a place with some wide-open spaces, good friends and the ability to put down some roots.
A horse was never in his original plan, but he found his true therapy came from horses.
“I never grew up with horses or had been around them,” he says. “So, as I was looking at this retirement in the face and searching the internet in what I wanted to do and how I wanted to reinvent myself. I came across a website for the Mustang Heritage Foundation.”
After attending a Veterans & Mustangs program, he knew he wanted to do something similar.
“When you step inside of a pen with a 1,000-pound animal that hasn’t been around humans and if they have it hasn’t been a positive thing, you really have to stay in the moment,” he explains. “You cannot think about stress from other aspects of your life.”
He continues by saying, “Going through the program wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies – we had bad days, but the lesson hit hard and it hit deep – if my head isn’t in the right place, the horse is going to let me know. In the end it allowed me to start healing instead of grasping for a purpose out of desperation.”
“I realized if I could do this, then a whole bunch of other people could too,” he says. “I then discovered this is what I wanted to do – to offer this same scenario I experienced to other veterans and first responders.”
The nonprofit program is entering into its second season. Currently, the program can only host three students at a time, says Karen.
The program utilizes horses from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Wild Horse and Burro program. Kelly helps facilitate transfers of horses to participants.
At the end of the program, attendees have the option to take the horse home – some do and some don’t, but he highly encourages participants take the horse home, he notes.
“If a participant doesn’t take the animal back with them it makes it difficult for them to practice the skills they have learned,” he shares. “For me, it’s about facilitating the two to come together and stay together.”
“From what I’ve seen, in my opinion, these mustangs are much smarter,” shares Kelly. “They have a lot of heart and they don’t do anything halfway.”
Karen notes equine therapy has really helped her husband with his PTSD.
“I’ve not only seen the benefits for my husband through this process, but also for the horse who has gone through PTSD of their own,” she shares. “When the two come together it’s very magical to see the two heal each other. This process has changed lives.”
“So far, our participants have come for different reasons,” Kelly shares. “Some have come to gain an understanding in how the horse interacts with humans and some have even brought their own mustang.”
Kelly and Karen don’t claim to advertise the nonprofit as a therapy service, but for many participants it becomes their therapy in gaining what they have lost.
“We had our first six-week program mid-May of 2021,” says Kelly. “Participants spend a majority of the first few weeks in a classroom learning about the anatomy of a horse and its behavior.”
In a standard day participants will start with breakfast, then feed and water their horse, clean its pen as needed and then spend a majority of the time in the classroom throughout the morning hours. After lunch, participants spend one-on-one time outside with their horse.
“It’s small baby steps,” says Kelly. “Each time you get more real estate on the horse’s face, neck or taking off its BLM tag – it’s these little, bitty successes creating celebrations which help the participant know they can do something no one else can do. It creates confidence.”
The program focuses on a few focal points: providing education; getting the first touch; taking off the BLM tag; getting a halter on the horse; picking up its feet and loading and unloading the horse into a trailer.
The nonprofit hosts two six-week programs, one in the spring, May through June, and another in the fall, mid-August through September.
The program has gained traction throughout the U.S. with participants so far coming from Florida, Arkansas, Wyoming, Missouri, Indiana and Kentucky.
Interested parties send in an application, and if they are a veteran, they are required to show proof of their redacted DD214 form. When the class is full, acceptance packets get sent out and participants make plans to attend. Kelly and Karen share if for some reason a participant is unable to attend, they are flexible in working with their schedule.
Karen and Kelly make participation as affordable as possible by offering a ranch truck to drive to town for groceries, RV pads for campers and they are looking to build some tiny cabins and a laundry facility. At the conclusion of the program, participants celebrate with a graduation ceremony.
Fundraising, events and resources
“We’re working on a lot of fundraising activities to try to expand and grow so we can serve more veterans,” Karen adds. “We have partnered with the Wyoming Mustang Association and plan to host a mustang competition in June for the veterans who will be coming this spring.”
There are several resources available across the U.S. for participants to work with their horse after the conclusion of the program, and Kelly and Karen help the attendees connect with a mustang-centered community in their area.
“I know it will work out, because I have been a part of the magic,” says Kelly.
“The bond I have seen being created between some of these veterans and their horse is mind blowing,” mentions Karen. “Once the horse connects with their human, they are hooked.”
“Winston Churchill said it best, ‘There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man,’” says Kelly.
The couple encourages those dealing with PTSD, anxiety, depression or a mental illness, not to be afraid to try something different.
“Don’t give up, and think outside of the box to find healing,” says Karen.
For more information, visit operationremount.org.
Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to email@example.com.