Empathy for Our Veterans – Wild Horses Heal! Atypical Equine Therapy
It was a cool crisp day when two teams from Eisai Finance (FP&A & Gov’t Contracting) embarked on their journey to a local horse farm to meet the husband and wife duo behind Unbridled Heroes. Finance did not know what to expect. Their hhc activity was a last-minute change due to a team building activity where wheelchairs were built for veterans and boxes of supplies were put together. The organization sponsoring these wheelchair builds was extremely grateful. Finance was inspired and compelled to do more for the Veteran population. Eisai had been sharing a lot about HCC and the success of Lenvima and hearing the charity discuss needs for their veteran population incited Finance to want to do more.
As fate would have it, Unbridled Heroes runs their non-for-profit in Saddle River– five minutes away from Eisai’s Woodcliff Lake office. There, Finance made the acquaintance of Amy and Mark Steppe two Veterans. Amy did most of the talking sharing their story. In essence, Mark and Amy returned from service mentally broken and ill. They suffered personal tragedies which only compounded their feelings of dissonance, grief, and PTSD, in trying to acclimate back to everyday life. At this breaking point, Amy and Mark happened upon the barn and property for sale and had an idea of rescuing wild mustangs. Their dedication to the project and ability to get it up and running fostered a new sense of purpose. They were miraculously able to accomplish this feat, and not only did they start the process of saving American wild mustangs, they realized that something special had taken place. In their connection with these horses, being able to empathize with these creatures and nurture them by not “breaking” them, they discovered that they themselves were also healing. As Amy and Mark continued to work and evolve with their horses, they were determined to help others like themselves and decided to match these mustangs with people who were suffering. The suffering wasn’t exclusive to Veterans although Unbridled Heroes runs a program for Veterans in equine therapy. The realization was that many people could be profoundly affected by their interactions with these horses. Unbridled Heroes has helped at risk youth, patients with cancer, people suffering from depression and children with disabilities.
Amy was a powerful storyteller. Authentic, genuine and caring, her desire to help and passion for healing others evident. Mark, her husband was soft-spoken and humble. He walked with a severe limp and has many health issues due to his time in Iraq, but he would serve his country again in a heartbeat. Their speech and mission impacted the Finance group. There was not a dry eye in the crowd as they stood outside that morning listening to the tale unfold and watching Amy work with the horses. It is hard to put into exact words what transpired but the result was something akin to magic.
Amy played music and demonstrated how one of her horses connects and shares with her. It was a special dance that was intimate and beautiful. Liberating, it allowed spectators an opportunity to reflect from afar and commune with nature.
The second part of the journey was an up close and personal exploration with the horses. Walking to a different area of the farm and leading the horses down to these pastures to feed, the Finance group got to celebrate the animals in their environment. When the horses were ready, the finance team were able to pick the horse that felt most attracted to and attempt a conversation. The results were remarkable as each participant had their own special dialogue unscripted.
Rescuing these animals from kill pens, gaining their trust over time (as they are often abused and mistrustful) and pairing them with people in society who need saving– namely Veterans suffering from PTSD, alcoholism, epilepsy and depression is without a doubt one of the most powerful analogies and why Amy and Mark named their non-for-profit Unbridled Heroes.
The seed of empathy that had been previously sowed by building the wheelchairs and making the veterans boxes had now been firmly planted and affected all participants. The revelation was the dynamic between individual and horse and how personal the experience was no matter what your circumstance.
Finance returned to Eisai fully vested in their desire to help Unbridled Heroes. There are limitations to single-handedly running this type of non-for-profit. Paying the auction fee of the horses, medical bills, quarantine fees, food and equipment is not easy. Trying to operate out of the goodness of their hearts has gotten Amy and Mark far but they want to help so many more people.
Finance wants to enable Unbridled Heroes in this quest to save lives. Testimonies from other patients revealed that engaging in visits to see the horses and “converse” with them has made unequivocal, positive changes to their mental state which is an integral part of being able to heal bodies. The medicine will not be enough to cure if the mind remains broken.
Finance also externalized amongst themselves sharing their raw emotions at what transpired and the surge of empathy the experience aroused. Putting themselves in the shoes of Amy and Mark, the Finance group thought about feeling discarded by society yet having the inner strength to want to share their stories and fight for their lives and the lives of others.