Ride Utah! USU and Military Veterans Taking the Reins

by Bronson Teichert

Veterans riding horses on a trail
Veteran on horse

Utah State University Extension’s Ride Utah! program for military veterans is proving to be successful just 4 years since its creation. Veterans and their families learn how to work with horses and often benefit from the therapeutic effects of being in the saddle.

USU Equine Extension Specialist Karl Hoopes created the program to help veterans and active duty military personnel who live with PTSD and other adversities.  

“There’s something about the outside of a horse that’s good for the inside of a man,” Hoopes said, quoting a favorite Winston Churchill phrase. “When you’re on a horse you’re in the moment. That’s proven to be very therapeutic for individuals, for everybody. That’s why I ride.”

That horse to human connection is the relationship that many veterans need according to U.S. Air Force veteran Dave Snarr.

“They don’t care who you are or where you’ve been, they’ll always be fair to you,” Snarr said. “There are a lot of vets that need some of that.”

Riding on the back of horse in Utah’s iconic landscapes gives veterans a chance to forget the bad and see good in the world surrounded by beautiful natural landscapes and new friends.

“It’s just a good spot up there on the mountain, to be able to look out over the valley, have a nice clean morning and be easy going,” Snarr said. “You couldn’t ask for anything better.”

Getting on a 1,000-pound animal for the first time can be scary at first, but USU equine science and management student Makenna Osborne said she loves this program because she can help people overcome those fears.

“That’s something we see in this program. These people are overcoming these fears and they want to come back more and more and more,” Osborne said. “We have a lot of repeat veterans.”

Being involved in programs like Ride Utah! helps students like Makenna build a portfolio, but she said giving back is the purpose behind her education.

“Having the opportunity to work with these people that have given so much of themselves to help protect us, feels really great,” Makenna said.

Giving back is why Hoopes created this program, and once again, the veterans return the favor.

“Everybody that we go on a ride with becomes your friend,” Hoopes said. “I have got friends all over this state because of these rides. For me that’s what drives me, is relationships. The relationship I form with my horse, the relationship I form with people that are able to go with us. That’s what is important to me in my life. And everybody that I ride with has become a friend.”

Learn more about the program, or donate to help support rides for Utah veterans, at Ride Utah. See video of a recent Ride Utah! experience in Box Elder County.