For someone who doesn’t even pretend to like most types of math and has an aversion to numbers in general, I have an odd obsession with statistics. It probably stems from my early love of pie graphs, which may stem from my early love of pie, but… At any rate, I like statistics because they give you a better picture of the entirety of a subject. I am, however, having a really difficult time looking at some statistics pertaining to U.S. veterans.
There are approximately 50,000 homeless veterans in the United States. It is estimated that at least 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. At least 22 U.S. veterans commit suicide every single day. In 2013, 9% of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan were unemployed. Then there are the statistics that are more difficult to measure: the divorce rate among returning veterans, the silent depression, and on, and on…
Everyone agrees that someone needs to do something. The issue is so big and so deep and so wide that it is easy to feel overwhelmed, to develop a “drop in a bucket” mentality and do nothing. Fortunately, there are some people who realize that drops in a bucket add up and that a partially filled bucket is better than an empty bucket! One such person is a lady named Jennifer Elliott, who founded the Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots program. Today, we’re going to talk about how Jennifer has dedicated her life to helping homeless veterans find new careers and a new future.
A Different Kind of Basic Training
What is Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots? It’s a program that might just as easily have been called, “Rifles to Rawhide,” or “Sandbags to Saddles,” but then I couldn’t make quips about people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.
Veterans already know all about basic training. But the Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots program provides a whole different kind of basic training for them. It’s way better than having a drill sergeant yelling in your face. This sort of basic training is specifically for veterans who have a love of animals and the great outdoors.
The full name is the Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots Equine Professional Program. It is a five-week, hands-on course, located in Ocklawaha, Florida, that gives veterans practical experience in the basics of horse handling. Participants learn grooming and ranch maintenance. They also learn about equine behavior and psychology. By the end of the program, students are qualified for work on local ranches. That’s right. This isn’t just an equine training program; it is also a job placement program.
The Woman Behind the Program
Jennifer Elliot, the woman behind this ingenious program, is a woman on a mission. She rescues both horses and people by giving them the respect they deserve. It’s difficult to imagine anyone being more perfectly suited for the job she does. Elliot didn’t just wake up one morning and set out to change the world. She put in years of preparation and allowed her mission to evolve as new needs presented themselves.
Here’s an abbreviated list of her unique qualifications:
- Elliot is a licensed R.N. with training in Post Traumatic Stress Disorders.
- She completed 6000 hours of working with horses to receive her EAGALA Equine Specialist certification.
- She also received certification in veteran/equine training through the OK Corral Series.
- Elliot has operated a horse rescue ranch for twenty years. Currently called, Horse in Miracles, it was originally named Last Chance Ranch. Over the years, she rescued, rehabilitated, and re-homed numerous race horses.
- She has taught what I estimate to be a bazillion classes in horsemanship, including equine psychology, behavior and body language, and daily care. (Okay, I might be slightly off on the number of classes, because, as previously mentioned, I don’t like math. But it’s up there.)
On top of everything, Elliot is married to a Vietnam veteran. Her father was a WWII Air Force pilot. Her uncles served in WWII. And, her nephew is retired from the Marines. Caring about military veterans comes naturally to her. In short, Jennifer Elliot is no slouch when it comes to qualifications. And she’s really no slouch when it comes to putting those qualifications to use.
Pulling Themselves Up by Their Bootstraps
The Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots program is a winning proposition for everyone. The horses benefit from being handled by new people. The veterans benefit from the calming influence of the horses. And, as they learn new skills, their confidence increases.
In an interview with the Ocala StarBanner, Jennifer Elliot said, “Horse are hyper vigilant, combat veterans are hyper vigilant. Both don’t like to be cornered. They can read body language, and both work in herds. I can use the strength that they bring back from the war to make them great horse people.” It sound like a match made in heaven. Elliot went on to say, “As they bond with the horse, they are healing themselves.”
The Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots program meets each of the four Wounded Warrior Goals for Veterans, by addressing mind, body, economic empowerment and engagement:
- Mind—Program participants actively learn about the psychology of horses.
- Body—The veterans are able to maintain an active lifestyle required for maintaining horses and farming equipment.
- Economic Empowerment—People who complete the program gain skills that lead to immediate employment.
- Engagement—Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots allows participants to learn how to bond and interact with horses. They are able to take those skills and begin to become more active in their community.
The cost of the Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots program to interested veterans is $0. That’s right! When it comes to job placement, there is no shortage of possibilities. In the area surrounding Ocklawaha, Florida, there are over 600 horse farms and, Elliot says there are approximately 29,000 people employed in the horse industry. Now, those are the kind of statistics I can get behind!