SUCCEED is proud to have been the title sponsor of the special Heroes on Horses event at the National Snaffle Bit Association World Championship Show again this year. The NSBA offers two Heroes on Horses classes during the World Championship Show. Both are open to veterans with disabilities.Heroes on Horses classes have been part of the NSBA Worlds since 2011.
Kurt Hughett, an Army veteran who was stationed at Fort Hood, Fort Irwin and Fort Bliss before leaving the service in 1985, always loved horses. But after acquiring several service-related disabilities while in the army he didn’t think he’d ever ride again.
That is, until one of his therapists at the VA hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, encouraged him to give it another try. She put Kurt in touch with Equest Therapeutic Horsemanship. This therapeutic riding program, based in Wylie, Texas, offered a class called Hooves for Heroes specifically for veterans. And since Equest specializes in equine therapy for children and adults with all types of physical, cognitive and emotional disabilities, the instructors knew exactly how to help Kurt get back on a horse for the first time in years. “They also taught me how much I didn’t know I didn’t know about horses!” he says with a laugh. That was just last fall.
This summer, he was the world champion of the NSBA Heroes on Horses class, Western Pleasure division, proving that he was a quick study. He also discovered that riding limbered up his aching lower back and neck, giving him significant relief from the pain he’d felt since leaving the Army.
“I never thought I’d be able to ride again, since I thought the movement would probably do me more harm than good,” Kurt says. “But when my butt’s in the saddle and I’m moving along with the horse’s stride, it stretches and limbers me up and my pain is greatly reduced.”
Equest’s focus on therapeutic riding means that each class starts with stretches designed to lengthen the leg and limber up the neck and shoulders. The horses are trained to take the special exercises in stride so that veterans with missing limbs or even partial paralysis can join in, sometimes aided by the walk-along volunteers.
“I used to be in constant pain,” Kurt says, “but the exercises we perform and just riding makes me more relaxed — and since I love it so much it relaxes me even more.”
Kurt, who got involved at the Fort Worth VA in 2003 after struggling with depression, says the equestrian therapy plays as big a role in maintaining an active, positive-minded lifestyle as the group and individual therapy he seeks at the VA and the volunteering he does in his spare time.
“It’s all been part of a greater plan that’s led me to Equest,” he says. “I have things to do and commitments and goals to keep. I really don’t have time to be down. And if I could go to equestrian therapy more than once a week, I sure would. I’d be there every day if I could.”
Kurt competed at the NSBA show with three other veterans from Equest’s Hooves for Heroes program. Susannah Denney, the veterans’ coordinator from Equest, had set up several “practice” shows for the veterans, but Kurt says that “Nothing prepares you for the number of people, the excitement or the exhilaration of being judged in a big competition. It was the first time I’d been paired up with Robbie, but the preparation and the classes I’d gotten from Equest gave me the tools I needed to have a performance that was even better than what I thought I had in me.”
Coming back to the barn as a world champion, Kurt says he’s looking forward to the next challenge.
“My trainer asked me what’s next for me, and I told her to just tell me where to go next,” he says. “She said it was time for me to start loping. I’ve loped before, but that was back when I was a teenager and didn’t know better! I’m a little older now, but I’m going to take it on as my next challenge.”