The Wounded Warrior Equestrian Program (WWEP) is a budding organization with big dreams. It aspires to bring together therapeutic riding programs and horse rescue centers across the United States in an effort to create a meaningful network to benefit the nation’s military. This vision is facilitated by equine and military professionals in hopes of mutual healing between rescued horses and service members.
The brainchild of its executive director, Bridget Kroger (MAJ. – U.S. Army), WWEP was formally established in February 2012. Instead of making and maintaining organizations from scratch, Kroger seeks to establish one entity to help them all. “It’s all about a team and a brand in support of more than just one horse farm.” Her idea is, very simply, to assist those already doing it, and then bring veterans to them. It is horse rescue and warrior rescue founded on the premise of mutual healing.
After 23 years in the military, Kroger is motivated to give back. Specifically, she wants American soldiers and veterans to feel healthy and alive again. “When someone decides to go into war, they have to understand the second, third and fourth order effects of that.” Oftentimes, returning soldiers miss the adrenaline rush of the day-to-day of their deployment. For soldiers just returning from combat missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, or veterans with lingering conditions from past deployments, horses may be the key to a renewed sense of purpose back at home. Indeed, the idea that horses have a unique capacity to heal is what drives the WWEP, as captured in its maxim: “The spirit of the warrior lives on forever!”
Social media has proven fundamental in Kroger’s endeavor to realize her vision. At present, she is corresponding with approximately 80 rescues and 10 therapeutic farms throughout the U.S. Her hope is to generate a great deal of financial backing by “creating a small corporation of non-profits that will help each other.” Ultimately, Kroger hopes to have at least one rescue, one therapeutic program, and one professional horse farm in each state be formally affiliated with WWEP.
The first priority is to raise awareness in order to generate funding. Because it is very difficult for therapeutic riding programs and horse rescues to execute their mission and raise money for their cause simultaneously, WWEP wants to be able to “cover the minimum operating expenses of each horse rescue and therapeutic program so funds they raise locally can go towards enhancing their individual mission,” says Kroger. WWEP wants them to “be comfortable knowing that land, utilities and horse care are not jeopardized.”
Presently, WWEP has proposals pending with a number of major American industry leaders so that it will be seen as a “symbol of Americans helping Americans.” Further fundraising efforts are planned for the upcoming year. In fact, the first major public appearance for WWEP is scheduled for 27 May at The Plains, Virginia. The Beethoven Foundation will be sponsoring a series of symphonies and bands to play a tribute to Wounded Warriors in order to raise $1 million for Wounded Warriors. They hope to make this a national holiday for Wounded Warriors, and are expecting 30,000 people at this event.
Another event will be the WWEP Annual Fundraiser to be held on 8 December at the Horse Center in Lexington, Virginia. It will include a farrier competition, chili cook-off and a horse clinic by Chris Cox. The event will include Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines in attendance. For the support gained through these events and others like it, Kroger and her small team will begin to “establish guidelines for which equine therapeutic riding programs and horse rescues receive funding.” In addition, within the next two years, Kroger hopes to have founded the first WWEP Horse Center in Charlottesville, Virginia, with a second one to follow in Colorado two years later.
Continued growth of the network of WWEP-affiliated therapeutic farms and horse rescues is one of the most important of the program’s future goals, as is building a fleet of trucks and trailers to move horses across the United States. A more long-term goal is to expand Kroger’s vision beyond the United States: She intends to broaden the network globally into Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, and Germany.
The Wounded Warrior Equestrian Program is here to help, here to get people involved with horses so that they have more thorough understanding and appreciation for the healing power of the horse. Together, horses and veterans can strive towards a new lease on life.
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